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Effects of protected area downsizing on habitat fragmentation in Yosemite National Park (USA), 1864 – 2014

Rachel E. Golden Kroner, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University; Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science, Conservation International
Roopa Krithivasan, Department of Geography, Clark University
Michael B. Mascia, Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science, Conservation International


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Protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) has been documented worldwide, but its impacts on biodiversity are poorly understood. To fill this knowledge gap, we reviewed historical documents to identify legal changes that altered the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. We identified two downsizes and five additions between 1905 and 1937 that reduced the size of Yosemite National Park by 30%. To examine the effects of these downsizing events on habitat fragmentation by roads, we compared protected, never-protected, and downsized lands at three spatial scales using four habitat fragmentation metrics: road density, fragment (land surrounded by roads) area-to-perimeter ratio, fragment area, and fragment density. In general, lands that were removed from protection, e.g., downsized, were more highly fragmented than protected lands and indistinguishable from never-protected lands. Lands where downsizes were reversed were less fragmented than lands where downsizes were not reversed. These results suggest that protected area downsizing may exacerbate habitat fragmentation, a key contributor to biodiversity loss globally. Furthermore, the case study in Yosemite National Park demonstrates that iconic protected areas in developed countries are not immune to downsizing. These findings underscore the need to account for PADDD and governance histories in ecological research, monitoring, and evaluation. As we move toward more evidence-based conservation policy, a rigorous understanding of PADDD is essential to ensure that protected areas fulfill their promise as a strategy for conserving global biodiversity.

Key words

downsizing; governance; habitat fragmentation; PADDD; protected areas; Yosemite National Park

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087