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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

The Protected Area Paradox and refugee species: The giant panda and baselines shifted towards conserving species in marginal habitats

Kerley, Graham I. H.; te Beest, Mariska; Cromsigt, Joris P. G. M.; Pauly, Daniel; Shultz, Susanne


Paradoxically, despite the growth in protected areas globally, many species remain threatened and continue to decline. Attempts to conserve species in suboptimal habitats (i.e., as refugee species) may in part explain this Protected Area Paradox. Refugee species yield poor conservation outcomes as they suffer lower densities and fitness. We suggest that the giant panda may serve as an iconic example, reflecting the contraction and shift in the giant panda's range, diet and habitat use over the past 3,500years, coinciding with increasing human pressure, and now maintained by conservation efforts, this due to shifted baselines. The global bias of protected area location to less productive habitats indicates that this problem may be widespread. We urgently need efforts to identify victims of refugee species status to allow improved conservation management globally, reducing the paradoxical outcomes of our conservation efforts.


Ailuropoda melanoleuca; conservation management; fitness; giant panda; optimal habitat; protected areas; range contraction; refugee species; shifted baseline; suboptimal habitat

Published in

Conservation science and practice
2020, Volume: 2, number: 6, article number: e203
Publisher: WILEY

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