Sustainable conservation outcomes for protected areas

Establishing protected areas is an important area-based approach to biodiversity conservation, but how effective are these areas in delivering sustainable outcomes in the long-term? This project addresses this question and focuses on areas that are under high threat but at the same time very important for both biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation.

Biodiversity is declining and the expansion of the protected area network has been the focus of international biodiversity policy in addressing this loss. What is not known is how protected areas are coping with increasing land-use change pressures and there is a risk that many areas end up as paper parks, established on paper but lacking the resources to mitigate threats. Studies using so-called counterfactual comparisons, such as matching, for evaluating the impacts of different conservation interventions are getting increased attention. However, it is not known what the enabling or limiting factors for sustainable outcomes for protected areas are, especially in tropical forests where both biodiversity and land use pressure is high.

The aim of this project is to investigate the funding constraints facing protected area management, and how outcomes are interlinked with not only funding and management at the local level, but also with existing institutional and policy conditions at the national level. This will be done by:

  1. Reviewing protected area outcomes in terms of impact in avoiding land conversions and relate this to expansion of coverage at the national level.
  2. Tracking funding flows at the national level and relate this to protected area outcomes, but also allow for a more detailed investigation of interactions with management inputs at the local level.
  3. Comparative study of the institutional setting for transformational change in achieving successful conservation policies, including both remote factors (such as institutional constraints) and proximate factors (actions and policies directly related to protected areas).

The methods will span multiple disciplines, using quantitative matching methods for evaluating impact and qualitative approaches for the comparison of selected case study countries.


Johanna Eklund (project leader)

Tuuli Toivonen

Ari-Pekka Jokinen

International collaboration

The work will be carried out in collaboration with the Conservation Science Group at the University of Cambridge, the Miller Research Group on Conservation and Development Politics at the University of Notre Dame and the International Forest Policy Research Group at the University of Helsinki.


The research has received several fundings:

  • Academy of Finland (Academy Postdoctoral Researcher) for the period 2020-2023
  • University of Helsinki (HELSUS Postdoctoral fellowship 2020)
  • Kone Foundation (two post-doctoral grants)
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