Cross-scale and social-ecological changes constitute main threats to private land conservation in South Africa


Conserving biodiversity in the long term will depend in part on the capacity of Protected Areas (PAs) to cope with cross-scale, social-ecological disturbances and changes, which are becoming more frequent in a highly connected world. Direct threats to biodiversity within PAs and their interactions with broader-scale threats are both likely to vary with PA spatial and management characteristics (e.g., location, dependence on ecotourism revenues, governmental support).

Private Land Conservation Areas (PLCAs) are interesting case study systems for assessing cross-scale threats to PAs and their determinants. Despite the growing number of PLCAs around the world, there is considerable uncertainty regarding the long-term capacity of these privately owned areas to conserve biodiversity. Their potential impermanence is commonly raised as a key concern. To better understand the threats to which different types of PLCAs are likely to be vulnerable, we asked 112 PLCA landholders in South Africa what they perceived as the top threats to their PLCAs. Landowners identified direct threats to the biodiversity within their PLCAs (e.g., poaching, extreme weather, inappropriate fire regimes, alien species) as well as describing broader socio-economic threats (e.g., regional crime, national legislation and politics, global economic recessions), which were noted to interact across scales.

We found support for the hypothesis that patterns in the perceived multi-scale threats to a PLCA correspond with its management and spatial characteristics, including its remoteness, dependence on ecotourism or hunting revenues, and richness of megafaunal species. Understanding the threats to which different PLCAs may be vulnerable is useful for developing more nuanced, targeted strategies to build PLCA resilience to these threats (for example, by strengthening the capacity of self-funded PLCAs to cope with the threat of economic downturns through more innovative financial instruments or diversified revenue streams).

Our findings highlight the importance of considering interactions between broad-scale socio-economic changes and direct threats to biodiversity, which can influence the resilience of PAs in ways that are not anticipated by more traditional, discipline-specific consideration of direct threats to the biodiversity within their boundaries.


Link to centre authors: Biggs, Oonsie
Publication info: Clements, H.S., Biggs, R., Cumming, G.S. 2020. Cross-scale and social-ecological changes constitute main threats to private land conservation in South Africa. Journal of Environmental Management Volume 274, 15 November 2020, 111235,