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Deforestation leakage undermines conservation value of tropical and subtropical forest protected areas


Ford, SA and Jepsen, MR and Kingston, N and Lewis, E and Brooks, TM and MacSharry, B and Mertz, O, Deforestation leakage undermines conservation value of tropical and subtropical forest protected areas, Global Ecology and Biogeography, 29, (11) pp. 2014-2024. ISSN 1466-822X (2020) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

ę 2020 The Authors. Global Ecology and Biogeography published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, ( which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

DOI: doi:10.1111/geb.13172



The establishment of protected areas is among the most widespread responses to mitigate species loss. Although protected areas are often assumed to have conservation benefits, negative impacts have also been documented. One potential negative outcome is leakage, whereby protected areas displace land‐use activities harmful to conservation into adjacent areas. This can undermine protection by accelerating loss of species or skewing judgements of effectiveness. This study assessed the prevalence of deforestation leakage in a pan‐tropical and subtropical selection of 120 protected areas.


Tropical and subtropical forest regions of America, Africa and Asia.

Time period


Major taxa studied

Threatened species of amphibians, birds and terrestrial mammals.


We used Global Forest Change data to assess the average yearly rate of deforestation in protected areas, protected area buffer zones and statistically matched, unprotected control areas. We calculated and compared irreplaceability of habitat for threatened amphibian, bird and terrestrial mammal species between protected areas and buffer zones.


In 55 cases, deforestation rates were higher in buffer zones than in protected and control areas, suggesting a relatively high prevalence of deforestation leakage stemming from protected areas. In 78.2% of documented leakage cases, reduced deforestation in protected areas was not sufficient to offset the amount of deforestation in 10ákm buffer zones to a level that would be expected without protection. In 90.9% of leakage cases, the irreplaceability of species in the 10ákm buffer zone was greater than that of the protected area, implying a negative impact of leakage on threatened species.

Main conclusions

The results suggest that protected areas are generally effective at preventing deforestation within their jurisdiction; however, leakage patterns can undermine conservation success because buffer zones often contain habitat for threatened species. We recommend accounting for the possibility of leakage when designing new protected areas and networks.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:deforestation, irreplaceability, land use, leakage, propensity score matching, protected area effectiveness, spillover, tropical forest
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Environmental management
Research Field:Conservation and biodiversity
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems
UTAS Author:Brooks, TM (Dr Thomas Brooks)
ID Code:142933
Year Published:2020
Web of Science® Times Cited:16
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2021-02-17
Last Modified:2021-05-24
Downloads:12 View Download Statistics

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