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Changes in area and number of nature reserves in China

Ma Z, Chen Y, Melville DS, Fan J, Liu J, Dong J, Tan K, Cheng X, Fuller RA, Xiao X & Li B (2019) Changes in area and number of nature reserves in China. Conservation Biology, 33, 1066-1075.

Nature reserves (NR) are the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. Over the past 60 years, the rapid expansion of NRs in China, one of the world’s megadiverse countries, has played a critical role in slowing biodiversity loss. We examined the changes in the number and area of China’s NRs from 1956 to 2014 and analyzed the effect of economic development on the expansion of China’s NRs from 2005 to 2014 with linear models. Despite a continuing increase in the number of NRs, the total area of China’s NRs decreased by 3% from 2007 to 2014. This loss resulted from downsizing and degazettement of existing NRs and a slowdown in the establishment of new ones. Nature reserves in regions with rapid economic development exhibited a greater decrease in area, suggesting that downsizing and degazettement of NRs are closely related to the intensifying competition between economic growth and conservation. For example, boundary adjustments to national NRs, the most strictly protected NRs, along the coast of China’s Yellow Sea, a global biodiversity hotspot with a fast‐growing economy, resulted in the loss of one‐third of the total area. One of the most important ecosystems in these NRs, tidal wetlands, decreased by 27.8% because of boundary adjustments and by 25.2% because of land reclamation. Our results suggest conservation achievement, in terms of both area and quality, are declining at least in some regions in the Chinese NR estate. Although the designation of protected areas that are primarily managed for sustainable use has increased rapidly in recent years in China, we propose that NRs with biodiversity conservation as their main function should not be replaced or weakened.

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