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Largest ever study reveals globally protected areas benefit broad range of species

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The world's protected areas do benefit a broad range of species – scientists from a collaborative research project led by the University of Sussex have discovered for the first-time.

The study, carried out by the University of Sussex working together with the Natural History Museum and the UN Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre, is the largest ever analysis of globally protected areas.

By analysing biodiversity samples taken from 1,939 sites inside and 4,592 sites outside 359 protected areas, scientists have discovered the protected area samples contain 15 percent more individuals and 11 percent more species compared to samples from unprotected sites.

The research was carried out by using a new global biodiversity database (the PREDICTS database) which contains data for approximately over one percent of all known species and spans 48 countries and 101 ecoregions – the most comprehensive biodiversity sample of terrestrial protected areas to ever be examined.

Co-lead author of the study, Dr Claudia Gray, from the University of Sussex said: "Previously, regional or global studies of protected areas have mostly used information from satellite photos, to look at changes in forest cover. Instead, we used a particularly exciting new dataset, which brings together information collected on the ground by hundreds of scientists all over the world.

"We have been able to show for the first-time how protection effects thousands of species, including plants, mammals, birds and insects. This has provided us with important insights into these areas – which previous studies were not able to do."

From the study, scientists also discovered protection is most effective when human use of land for crops, pasture and plantations is minimised. The results suggest that better management across the existing protected area network could more than double its effectiveness.

Dr Jörn Scharlemann, from the University of Sussex, said: "Protected areas are widely considered essential for biodiversity conservation, but our results show for the first-time that they do actually benefit a wide range of species.

"Our results reinforce recent commitments by governments for increased support and recognition of the importance of protected areas worldwide.

"We cannot deny the global importance of these areas and we must ensure that governments across the world recognise their significance and work to improve their effectiveness.

"Protected areas do not currently benefit all species – but what we have shown in our study is they have the potential to help us conserve some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth – which is why they vitally need increased global support."

Prof Andy Purvis, one of the paper's authors from the Natural History Museum, said: "This study shows how important questions in conservation biology can be tackled by joining forces. Hundreds of scientists from dozens of countries have generously shared their hard-earned data with us. Each one of those data sets is like a piece of a jigsaw: the overall picture only becomes clear when you have all the pieces and can put them together."

Dr Samantha Hill from the UN Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre, said: "Humanity faces difficult decisions as to how best to protect biodiversity while providing for the needs of our ever-growing population. This study provides new understanding into the biodiversity found at the intersection of protected areas and human land-uses.

"This research relied upon the data collated in the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) – the most complete dataset detailing the world's terrestrial and marine protected areas. The WDPA is a joint product of the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and made publicly-available by the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre at http://www.protectedplanet.net."

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The Paper entitled, "Local biodiversity is higher inside than outside terrestrial protected areas worldwide" is published in Nature Communications at 10:00am GMT on Thursday 28th July 2016 and once published be found here http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/NCOMMS12306

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Notes to Editors:

The University of Sussex's School of Life Sciences is one of the largest academic schools at the University of Sussex. With 96 per cent of its research rated as world leading, internationally excellent or internationally recognised (REF 2014), it is among the leading research hubs for the biological sciences in the UK. The School is home to a number of prestigious research centres including the Genome Damage and Stability Centre (GDSC) and the Sussex Drug Discovery Centre, where academics work with industry to translate scientific advances into real-world benefits for patients. The School is one of the partners of the Sussex Sustainable Research Programme, a new strategic initiative between the University of Sussex and the Institute of Development Studies which aims to support the sustainability of life on Earth through rigorous interdisciplinary research which stimulates action and influences policy. http://www.sussex.ac.uk/ssrp/index

The Natural History Museum in London welcomes more than five million visitors a year and is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its unique collection and unrivalled expertise it is tackling the biggest challenges facing the world today. It helps enable food security, eradicate disease and manage resource scarcity. It is studying the diversity of life and the delicate balance of ecosystems to ensure the survival of our planet. For more information go to http://www.nhm.ac.uk

The UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge is the specialist biodiversity assessment centre of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world's foremost intergovernmental environmental organisation. The Centre has been in operation for over 30 years, combining scientific research with practical policy advice, and houses the World Database on Protected Areas. http://www.unep-wcmc.org

Additional research bodies involved in this research paper include: Imperial College London, Swansea University in the UK, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia.

This work was funded by the School of Life Sciences at the University of Sussex and the UK's Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). This is a contribution from the Imperial College Grand Challenges in Ecosystem and the Environment Initiative, and the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme.

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