How successful are different conservation strategies?

What works in tropical forest conservation, and what doesn’t?

Together with staff writers Shreya Dasgupta and Mike Gaworecki at, as well as several other collaborators, we produced a series of articles for Mongabay that explores how effective different conservation strategies are. The non-profit GreenInfo network helped us make interactive visualizations of our findings.

The conservation effectiveness platform for tropical forest certification. Click on the image to get to the interactive platform. Each strategy has it’s own platform that displays the available evidence.

We looked at four different strategies that are common in tropical forest conservation: Strict Protected Areas, Tropical Forest Certification, Payments for Ecosystem Services, and Community Forest Management.

What is a conservation strategy?

Once an area, for example a part of a rainforest, has been found to be really valuable for biodiversity, and highly threatened, conservation strategy is what we decide to do to protect it. We could set it aside, as a Protected Area. Another way to protect a tropical forest from deforestation and heavy degradation is to allow the logging industry to extract timber selectively, but dictate strict, environmentally friendly conditions under which this is done. Such improved forest management then can be certified, which is supposed to bring reassurance to customers that they are buying responsibly sourced wood products. In theory, such products can be sold at a higher price to motivate the loggers to keep up responsible forest management. Forest certification is one example of a (market-based) conservation strategy. In the series, we are looking also at Community Forest Management, and Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES).

The problem is that for most of these strategies, we don’t know for sure when they work well, and when they might not be very effective, or even counterproductive.

A lot of the time, conservation NGOs don’t use just one strategy – they might try to set aside the core of the forest as a Protected Area, and then encourage responsible forest management through Certification in the surround areas.. Or a community that is managing its forest might decide to engage in ecotourism as well. So rather than picking one strategy and sticking to it, it is more like having a hand of cards, and carefully, strategically choosing which cards to play next, as the circumstances change. Forest certification might work well while there is strong demand for the species of timber that can be harvested from the forest in question. But the timber market fluctuates and that type of wood might go out of fashion, so perhaps the area will move towards selling its ecosystem services under a PES scheme.

Peer-reviewed publications

To read in more detail about what we found, and what kind of evidence we considered, please see these articles:

Zuzana Burivalova, Thomas F Allnutt, Dan Rademacher, Annika Schlemm, David S Wilcove, Rhett A Butler, 2019. What works in tropical forest conservation, and what does not: Effectiveness of four strategies in terms of environmental, social, and economic outcomes. Conservation Science and Practice, 1:6.

Zuzana Burivalova, Daniela Miteva, Nick Salafsky, Rhett A Butler, David S Wilcove, 2019. Evidence Types and Trends in Tropical Forest Conservation Literature. Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Want to get involved?

Would you like to contribute more evidence to the platform? Would you like to add a whole new strategy? Would you like to research how conservation practitioners use evidence? Get in touch to discuss the different ways to get involved!

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