News Release

Protected area design secrets revealed in new study

It is not only size that matters when planning a protected area, other spatial features such as shape are also critical to the number of animal species found there

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Exeter

It is not only size that matters when planning a protected area, other spatial features such as shape are also critical to the number of animal species found there. A new study from the University of Exeter assessed the spatial characteristics of more than 400 South American protected areas - places legally protected for the long term conservation of nature - to determine what affects the number of amphibians, birds and mammals present.

The study, which is published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, considered the size of each protected area, its shape, the level of fragmentation and its proximity to other protected areas.

The results showed that while larger areas tended to host more species, this effect increased if the area was an irregular shape rather than a compact one. In contrast, an increase in size did not substantially increase the number of species if the habitat was fragmented compared with non-fragmented.

The researchers found that interactions between spatial features have important effects on biodiversity within protected areas. Assessments of potential interactions should, therefore, be carried out prior to establishing protected areas to optimise the design and ensure that the positive effect of one feature, for example size, is not attenuated by the influence of another feature, for example fragmentation.

The study found that the numbers of species present were also affected by the interactions among spatial features and environmental conditions including latitude, altitude, temperature and rainfall, indicating that guidelines on protected area design should account for local conditions as well as spatial features.

Dr Paz Durán, lead author of the paper, who is now at the United Nations Environment Programme said: "With respect to spatial design, we now know that protected area effectiveness is more than the sum of its parts - interaction between spatial features plays a key role in biodiversity representation."

Professor Kevin Gaston Director of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall said: "Our study untangles those features of protected areas which influence the number of species present. We found that size alone is not enough to ensure species richness; a protected area also has to have other key design features, which depend on its environment, to boost biodiversity."

By assessing hundreds of protected areas across a continental scale, this study provides the first evidence of the combined and interactive effects of spatial features on species richness. The researchers hope that these findings will be instrumental in boosting biodiversity in existing protected areas and ensuring that future protected area design is maximised.


Species richness representation within protected areas is associated with multiple interacting spatial features by América P. Durán, Richard Inger, Lisette Cantú-Salazar and Kevin J. Gaston is published in Diversity and Distributions.

Notes to editors:

The full article is available to view online, here:

Picture available on request.

For further information:

University of Exeter
Press Office
+44 (0)1392 722405 or 722062

About the University of Exeter

The University of Exeter is a Russell Group university that combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 19,000 students and is one of the global top 100 universities according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-16, positioned 93rd. Exeter is also ranked 7th in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016, 9th in the Guardian University Guide 2016 and 10th in The Complete University Guide 2016. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the University ranked 16th nationally, with 98% of its research rated as being of international quality. Exeter was named The Times and The Sunday Times Sports University of the Year 2015-16, in recognition of excellence in performance, education and research. Exeter was The Sunday Times University of the Year 2012-13.

The University has four campuses. The Streatham and St Luke's campuses are in Exeter and there are two campuses in Cornwall, Penryn and Truro. In a pioneering arrangement in the UK, the Penryn Campus is jointly owned and managed with Falmouth University. At the campus, University of Exeter students can study programmes in the following areas: Animal Behaviour, Conservation Biology and Ecology, English, Environmental Science, Evolutionary Biology, Geography, Geology, History, Human Sciences, Marine Biology, Mining and Minerals Engineering, Politics and International Relations, Renewable Energy and Zoology.

The University has invested strategically to deliver more than £350 million worth of new facilities across its campuses in the last few years; including landmark new student services centres - the Forum in Exeter and The Exchange on the Penryn Campus in Cornwall, together with world-class new facilities for Biosciences, the Business School and the Environment and Sustainability Institute. There are plans for further investment between now and 2016.

About the University of Exeter's Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI)

The Environment and Sustainability Institute is a £30M interdisciplinary centre, based on the Penryn Campus, undertaking cutting-edge research into solutions to problems of environmental change; in so doing it is enhancing people's lives by improving their relationships with the environment. The ESI has three research themes: clean technologies, natural environment, and social science and sustainability. It is engaging with hundreds of businesses in Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and beyond to translate its research and expertise across these themes into innovative business practice, products and services.

The ESI building has been designed to achieve a BREEAM 'Outstanding' status, the highest classification available under the BRE Environmental Assessment Method which is the leading and most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings

The ESI was formally opened in April 2013 and has been funded by the European Regional Development Fund Convergence Programme (£22.9M) and the South West Regional Development Agency (£6.6M), with significant support from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The University of Exeter and Falmouth University are founding partners in the Combined Universities in Cornwall (CUC), a unique collaboration between six universities and colleges to promote regional economic regeneration through Higher Education, funded mainly by the European Union (Objective One and Convergence), the South West Regional Development Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, with support from Cornwall Council.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.