Conservation goals and the relative importance of costs and benefits in reserve selection

Conserv Biol. 2008 Oct;22(5):1331-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.00976.x. Epub 2008 Jul 14.


Including both economic costs and biological benefits of sites in systematic reserve selection greatly increases cost-efficiency. Nevertheless, limited funding generally forces conservation planners to choose which data to focus the most resources on; therefore, the relative importance of different types of data must be carefully assessed. We investigated the relative importance of including information about costs and benefits for 3 different commonly used conservation goals: 2 in which biological benefits were measured per site (species number and conservation value scores) and 1 in which benefits were measured on the basis of site complementarity (total species number in the reserve network). For each goal, we used site-selection models with data on benefits only, costs only, and benefits and costs together, and we compared the efficiency of each model. Costs were more important to include than benefits for the goals in which benefits were measured per site. By contrast, for the complementarity-based goal, benefits were more important to include. To understand this pattern, we compared the variability in benefits and in costs for each goal. By comparing the best and the worst possible selection of sites with regard to costs alone and benefits alone for each conservation goal, we introduced a simple and consistent variability measure that is applicable to all kinds of reserve-selection situations. In our study, benefit variability depended strongly on how the conservation goal was formulated and was largest for the complementarity-based conservation goal. We argue that from a cost-efficiency point of view, most resources should be spent on collecting the most variable type of data for the conservation goal at hand.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / methods
  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Planning Techniques
  • Sweden
  • Trees*