Are protected areas preserving ecosystem services and biodiversity? Insights from Mediterranean forests and shrublands

  • Judit Lecina-DiazEmail author
  • Albert Alvarez
  • Miquel De Cáceres
  • Sergi Herrando
  • Jordi Vayreda
  • Javier Retana
Research Article



Protected areas (PAs) are essential for biodiversity conservation and the provision of ecosystem services (ES), representing 15% of the earth’s surface and targeted to increase until 17% by 2020. But previous studies showed different results on the effectiveness of PAs in preserving ES and biodiversity, which has implications for landscape conservation.


(1) To know whether the spatial distribution of ES (carbon stocks and water provision), biodiversity (woody and bird richness) and conservation variables (threatened bird richness, habitats and geology) varies between PAs (with different protection status) and buffer zones; and (2) to quantify and compare the percentage of high values (hotspots) of ES, biodiversity and conservation variables inside PAs (with different protection status) and buffer zones.


We analyzed 108 PAs from a Mediterranean region using linear mixed models with ES, biodiversity and conservation variables as response factors, and type of zone (PA vs buffer) and protection status as fixed factors.


We found higher values of carbon stocks in PAs than in buffer zones. We also found more coverage of community-interest habitats, priority-habitats and geological-interest sites in PAs than in buffer zones. However, PAs with higher degree of protection did not provide higher levels of ecosystem services and biodiversity, or vice versa. We found more hotspots of woody richness, bird richness and threatened bird richness in buffer zones than in PAs.


This study highlights the importance of landscape planning in conservation, which should include PAs within broader landscapes by considering also their buffer zones and non-PAs. It also emphasizes the importance of integrating ES and biodiversity to define effective conservation policies.


Buffer zone Landscape conservation Forests Hotspots distribution Protection status Shrublands 



Many thanks to J. Gordillo for photointerpretation, M. Pla, D. Villero and M. Anton for their advices on bird data. We wish to thank L. Comas, C. Batlles and M. Banqué for their useful comments. We are grateful to the Spanish National Forest Inventory and the Catalan Ornithological Institute for providing data, as well as to the thousands of participants that collected these data. This study was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness project ‘FORESTCAST’ (CGL2014-59742-C2-1-R) and ‘INMODES’ (CGL2017-89999-C2-1-R). J. Lecina-Diaz received a pre-doctoral fellowship funded by Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (BES-2015-073854). Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable feedback on the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CREAFBellaterra (Cerdanyola del Vallès)Spain
  2. 2.Joint Research Unit CTFC-AGROTECNIOSolsonaSpain
  3. 3.Catalan Ornithological Institute, Natural History Museum of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  4. 4.Universitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterra (Cerdanyola del Vallès)Spain

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