Attitudes towards risk of armed conflict shape conservation successes
The high incidence of armed conflicts in the world’s most biodiverse regions presents difficult conservation challenges. Conflict can detrimentally affect biologically significant ecosystems, especially in relatively pristine protected areas. Focusing on Africa, we combine two estimations of conflict risk (state-level estimates, and a fine-resolution sub-national estimates), with endangered species distributions and land purchasing costs, to identify locations to include in a network of protected areas. For each species, we set a target of conserving 30% of its current range. We quantified the consequences of four different attitudes toward conflict risk: 1 – Ignore risk and identify new protected areas using cost and biodiversity alone. 2 – Avoid risk, where areas above a threshold of risk are deemed unavailable for protection. 3 – Account for risk, where high risk areas can be avoided, or more areas might be purchased to offset predicted losses. 4 – Sensitive to risk, where high risk areas are unavailable and risk is accounted for in the remaining areas (a combination of 2 and 3). For each attitude towards risk we then calculated the number of species deemed successfully conserved, the cost of the reserve network, and the overall predicted return on investment (species conserved per $million).
We show that regardless of how it is estimated, ignoring conflict risk would reduce the initial cost of a protected area network, but many areas would be exposed to potentially high levels of armed conflict. Numerical simulations show that relatively high exposure to conflict risk would likely lead to conservation targets being missed, reducing overall return on investment. Opting to avoid conflict-prone areas would not improve either the number of species successfully conserved, or the return on investment. Additionally if national-level estimates of conflict are used, avoiding conflict would lead to multiple species receiving zero protection. Accounting for conflict risk increases the overall cost of the protected area network, however more species are successfully conserved such that return on investment is substantially increased. When a risk sensitive approach is adopted and fine-resolution estimates of risk are used, the highest overall return on investment is achieved. Our results demonstrate that conservation goals are achievable in regions experiencing armed conflict, although would likely involve some exposure to conflict risk. We also demonstrate the value of fine-resolution projections of conflict risk when making management decisions.