Ecologically representative

Summary Global Guidelines Technical and interactive resources

Ecological representation refers to the concept that the full variety of biodiversity of different biological realms (freshwater, marine and terrestrial) and biological scales (ecosystems, species and within-species variation) should be represented in the system of protected and conserved areas (PCAs). Ecological representation is a crucial concept in the planning and management of protected area networks, especially for the conservation of biodiversity and ecological processes. This requires a systematic approach to identify, assess and measure biodiversity. Because our knowledge is incomplete, the use of coarse-filter biodiversity surrogates helps in this identification process. Once the ecological assessment is complete, conservation strategies are developed to create and manage protected areas that represent the identified diversity effectively. This might involve establishing new protected areas, expanding existing ones, or linking protected areas through corridors to facilitate the movement of species. The aim is to design a network of protected areas that collectively safeguard the ecological richness of the region and enable species to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Ecological representation enhances the chances of long-term biodiversity conservation and contributes to the overall health and resilience of ecosystems within the protected area network.

Representation approaches need to be adjusted periodically in response to new data, tools and information about their effectiveness.

Progress is being made. Under the Convention on Biological Diversity’s former Aichi Target 11, between 2010 and 2020 the number of the 821 terrestrial ecoregions reaching 17% coverage in protected areas increased from 297 to 360 (excluding Antarctic, Rock and Ice and Lake ecoregions). The improvement was even more pronounced among the marine realm’s 232 ecoregions, with the number meeting the 10% target more than doubling from 49 to 110 in that time period.

Closing the Gap. Creating Ecologically Representative Protected Area Systems: A Guide to Conducting the Gap Assessments of Protected Area Systems for the Convention on Biological Diversity

Identifying, prioritising, and filling gaps in the national protected areas system is a core element of a protected areas master plan. This guide has been produced to help governments and others implement an aspect of one of these core elements: a gap analysis for a nation’s current system of protected areas, within the framework of the CBD. It provides background information and a step-by-step guide, outlines tools and existing information and gives some case studies. No gap analysis is ever complete but rather a snapshot drawing on the best information available at the time; the gap analysis should remain iterative so that as more information and experience are accumulated they can be incorporated into decision making that will ensure the conservation of a country’s natural heritage. Guiding principles for gap analysis:

  1. Ensure full representation across biological scales (species and ecosystems) and biological realms (terrestrial, freshwater, and marine).
  2. Aim for redundancy of examples of species and ecosystems within a protected area network to capture genetic variation and protect against unexpected losses.
  3. Design for resilience to ensure protected area systems to withstand stresses and changes, such as climate change.
  4. Consider representation gaps, ecological gaps and management gaps in the analysis. Representation gaps refer to species, ecosystems and ecological processes that are missed entirely by the protected area system; Ecological gaps relate to biodiversity that exists within protected areas but with insufficient quality or quantity to provide long term protection; while management gaps refer to situations where protected areas exist but are failing to provide adequate protection either because they have the wrong management objectives or because they are managed poorly.
  5. Employ a participatory approach, collaborating with key stakeholders in making decisions about protected areas.
  6. Make protected areas system design an iterative process in which the gap analysis is reviewed and improved as knowledge grows and environmental conditions change.

The IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology is the first-ever comprehensive classification framework for classifying and mapping all Earth’s ecosystems, which integrates their functional and compositional features.
Global Typology for Ecosystems

IUCN’s Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) is a global standard for assessing risks to ecosystems. It allows us to identify common symptoms (both spatial and functional) to understand the level of risk that an ecosystem is facing.
Red List of Ecosystems

The CARE Principles: Connectivity, Adequacy, Representation, and Effectiveness are four key principles that should be considered when designing a conservation network.
The CARE principles

The Protected Planet Report 2020 documents and maps the representation of terrestrial and marine ecoregions of the world. Chapter 4. Ecologically representative.
Protected Planet. Chapter 4

Journal article:
An assessment of the representation of ecosystems in global protected areas using new maps of World Climate Regions and World Ecosystems
Article link