Priorities to protect nature in Europe

There is a consensus among conservation scientists that protected areas should be extended to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem services, but it is often difficult to prioritize protected areas. Considering the factors that motivate conservation across Europe, an analysis by O’Connor et al. includes species value, represented by the distribution of over 800 vertebrate species; the cultural value of landscapes, represented by activities such as nature tourism; and the value of ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and flood protection. Although these three main features often do not coincide in the landscape, the authors found that a focus on biodiversity in spatial conservation planning is the most effective way to capture a range of nature’s values.

Science, abc4896, this issue p. 856

Abstract

There is an urgent need to protect key areas for biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people (NCP). However, the different values ​​of nature are rarely considered together in conservation planning. Here we explore potential priority areas in Europe for biodiversity (all terrestrial vertebrates) and a set of cultural and regulatory NCPs while considering the demand for these NCPs. We quantify the spatial overlap between these priorities and their performance in representing the different values ​​of nature. We show that the different priorities rarely coincide, except in certain irreplaceable ecosystems. In particular, the priorities for biodiversity represent the NCP better than the reverse. Theoretically, protecting an additional 5% of land has the potential to double the gains from biodiversity conservation while maintaining some essential NCPs, resulting in common benefits for nature and people.