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The World Parks Congress in Bali in 1982 had set a target to set aside 10 percent of the world’s terrestrial landmass as protected areas, but it did not indicate which lands. For the majority of the more than 175 countries that have ratified the Convention on Biodiversity it is unknown what their ecosystems and species are and where they occur. Only through extremely efficient selection of spaces to systems of truly protected areas can a significant proportion of the species of the earth be given a chance to survive. Efficiency of selection becomes even more important, when we realize that many species in protected areas will still perish as a result of natural ecological processes taking place in protected areas that will/have become islands of nature in a human-dominated world. In addition to such processes, some anthropogenic influences cannot be stopped at the boundaries of protected areas. Most and for all, climatic change will take a heavy toll, even in the best-managed protected areas. The more species we can select to protected areas systems, the more species will have a chance to weather out the storm of ecological destruction that is currently devastating this planet’s biodiversity. The conservation of the world’s biological heritage in a human-dominated world is a scientific challenge on par with cracking the genetic code or sending humans to the moon. It requires the collaboration of all sectors of society and a great variety of disciplines, but most and for all, ecological science. If the ecological foundations of conservation are ignored, then all other efforts are likely to fail.

Based on concept development and experimentation since 1992, “Comprehensive Protected Areas System Synthesis and Monitoring” has been developed by a task force of renowned experts in all the primary fields required to bring together both the theoretical background and the institutional experience for such ambitious goal. It provides a holistic method and a toolbox for the rational design of protected areas systems that maximize species conservation through targeted selection, based on broadly accepted ecological principles. The identification is based on appropriate technology computer programmes and techniques that allow the user to identify and map biodiversity using ecological surrogates to spatially distinguish species assemblages. A monitoring programme with additional tools and manuals, builds on the initial selection as a baseline, while it gradually furthers the biological knowledge of protected areas on the basis of relevant field observations. A protected areas costing module, can help policy makers, planners and managers with the complex process of raising and distributing the finances needed to operate the protected areas systems.

For a long time, ecosystem mapping has been possible from aerial photographs, and this was applied in some parts of Africa, in Belize and in Western Europe on a moderate scale. Interpretation was slow and the photographs were expensive and national sets were often incomplete. As a result, the maps of natural vegetation covered only few parts of the world. It was not until the 1990s that satellite images had become more widely available to scientists and particularly vegetation biologists. Some of the first detailed mapping applications with remotely sensed imagery for the tropics was the pioneering work by Iremonger in 1993, 1994 and 1997. These were important advances as they facilitated much faster and more cost-effective mapping, particularly after the LANDSAT 7 imagery became available for less than US $500 per image in the year 2000. GIS software had also become more broadly available and sinde the second half of the nineteen nineties they could be operated on regular desktop computers.

The World Bank/Netherlands Government/CCAD financed the production of an ecosystem-mapping, spanning more than 1500 km from Belize to Panama: the “Map of the Ecosystems of Central America”. Ecosystems were mapped by more than 20 scientists using the “Tentative Physiognomic-Ecological Classification of Plant Formations of the Earth”, developed under the auspices of the UNESCO, complemented with additional aquatic ecosystems and some floristic modifiers. The term ecosystem was used, because it was argued that areas with distinct physiognomic and ecological characteristics would not only have partially distinct sets of floristic elements, but also partially distinct sets of fauna and fungi elements. It was demonstrated that ecosystems derived from such criteria could be identified in considerable detail and in a short period, using satellite images and teams of experienced national biologists. This opened the way to worldwide detailed identification and localisation of ecosystems and related species assemblages. Never before was it possible to generate geographically homogeneous data sets, as all existing databases – even in developed countries - are heavily biased by road-access, research facilities and site-choice by researchers. It now has become possible to distinguish and map partially distinct assemblages of species rapidly and in considerable detail from recent datasets reflecting current situations and without aforementioned factors of bias. These ecosystem maps finally make it possible to carry out unbiased gap/presence analysis.

The Honduran part of that map was used to evaluate the presence and gaps of ecosystem representation in the protected areas system, SINAPH, of Honduras. An MS-Excel based spreadsheet evaluation programme called “MICOSYS” was used to compare the relative importance of each area and to design alternative models for protected areas system for different scenarios of conservation security and socio-economic benefits. To achieve this, very specific criteria are needed that allow differentiation of size requirements for protected areas depending on a variety of factors such as Minimum Viable Population (MVPs) and Minimum Area requirements (MARs), functionality for both terrestrial and aquatic species of animals, plants and fungi, as well as ecosystem characteristics. Solid ecological principles, enriched with some new considerations on species survival have been integrated into a holistic approach that allows the synthesis of representative protected areas systems. New concepts are presented on the minimum required sizes of protected areas, in which not top predators were considered as determining factors, but ecosystems. As far as the SLOSS (Single Large Or Several Small reserves) debate is concerned, it is clear that we will need SLASS: Some Large And Several Small reserves, the latter complementing ecosystems absent in the large areas protected areas. The method not only generates differentiation in importance of the protected areas on the basis of socio-economic and ecological factors, but it also calculates estimates of investment needs and recurrent costs. It was originally developed in 1992 for Costa Rica, but it is country-size independent and may be applied anywhere in the world. It is very flexible and may be complemented with other methods, particularly the Important Bird Areas of BirdLife International and the Rapid Assessment and Prioritisation of Protected Area Management (RAPPAM) Methodology of the WWF. The cost calculations in MICOSYS are of strategic importance. Governments all over the world have made great progress in institutionalising protected areas. But it was only a first necessary step. Adequate funding has not yet come along to meet the requirements. A realistic idea about costs is necessary to work toward finding solutions to the financing problem.

One of the by-products of the Map of the Ecosystems of Central America is an MS-Access-based database called Ecosystems Monitoring Database, for the storage of ecological field information, consisting of tracking information to support physical physiognomic and floristic information. The database has been expanded to also store information on fauna as well as essential information on the use of natural resources and visitation within an area, thus creating a tool for protected area or ecosystem monitoring. In Honduras, a monitoring approach was developed and the database had become fully integrated and made user-friendlier, so that it could also be used by park rangers.

The techniques used in the methodology are all known methods based on commonly accepted ecological principles The methodology has been developed, evaluated and tested for more than a decade and consists of an “appropriate technology” approach. User-friendly applications were designed in familiar programmes to be accessible to national scientists and rangers anywhere in the world. Each application may be used independently and may be customised to suit national needs. It has not been designed to replace existing monitoring systems, but to be available for countries where a database is not yet available or for individual users and or protected areas.


1. The worldwide struggle for the conservation of nature


World Parks Congresses

IUCN commissions

Major International Agreements and Conventions

the convention on biological diversity (CBD)

1.2.biodiversity conservation options

1.2.1.In-situ conservation: protected areas systems

1.2.2.Haphazard selection and continuous pressure to expand

1.2.3.The CBD on biological criteria

2.options for biodiversity identification and distribution by proxi

2.1.methodological options

2.1.1.The CBD context

2.1.2.Potential methods

2.1.3.Method a), using distribution patterns of a better known taxon as a proxy for the patterns of all taxa

2.1.4.Method (b), rapid assessment techniques to identify the relative biodiversity richness

2.1.5.Method c: complementarity technique

2.1.6.Method (d), mapping of terrestrial biounits and water bodies

2.1.7.Overall suitability of options

2.2.potential ecosystems classification methods

2.2.1.Different classification systems

2.2.2.Floristic methods

2.2.3.Holdridge Life Zones vegetation classification system

2.2.4.Physical classification by Walter

2.2.5.Biogeography based methods

2.2.6.Physiognomy-based classification systems UNESCO classification system USNVC classification system FAO Land Cover Classification System, LCCS UNESCO system applied in Central America words about scale

2.3.identification by physiognomic-ecological classification systems

2.3.1.From vegetation map to ecosystem map

2.3.2.Recognition from satellite images


2.3.4.The role of species of special concern

Endemic species

Rare, Threatened,  endangered species, vagrants

Flagship species

3.minimum area requirements

3.1.Species representation / gap analysis


3.2.Species survival requirements

3.2.1.From ecosystems to populations

3.2.2.Minimum viable populations (MVPs)

Extinction deficit

3.3.Minimum area requirements and minimum ecosystem sizes

3.3.1.Regulationism versus stochastism

3.3.2.Minimum area requirements

3.3.3.Minimum area aquatic ecosystems

3.3.4.Large protected areas

3.4.congregarious and migratory animals

3.5.Some additional considerations

3.6.spreading of extinction risks

3.7.Edge effects

3.8.Biological corridors

4.protected areas system composition

4.1.micosys, a protected areas system analysis tool

4.2.Qualifying areas

4.3.scoring challenges

4.4.development of models with different levels of conservation security

4.5.effectiveness of protected areas

4.6.Ex situ conservation measures


4.7.cost aproximation

4.7.1.Cost-efficiency in conservation programming

4.7.2.Principle cost factors protected areas systems

4.7.3.Some observations on the over-all costs

5.options for monitoring and evaluation programmes


5.1.principal users

5.2.threat and impact related monitoring


5.4.staff based programme

5.5.cooperative programmes

5.6.complementary ad-hoc evaluations

5.7.some words on monitoring management effectiveness

5.8.annual monitoring reports

5.9.collection of data


Full text CBD

IUCN list of protected areas categories

Worldwide financing needs of protected areas systems in developing countries

Estimated numbers of species in the world




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