Human populations grow faster near protected areas

New in Science: Protected areas like national parks and forests seem to stimulate economic development [abstract only]. The study’s authors examine more than 300 protected areas in 45 African and Latin American countries, and find that human populations near the preserves are growing nearly twice as rapidly as those in rural areas farther away from preserves.

On the one hand, this is good news – it might be evidence that, rather than depressing economic development, natural reserves actually provide benefits to locals in the form of jobs as park staff or ecotourism guides, or development projects coupled with conservation efforts. On the other hand, though, it could be that development associated with tourism actually puts more pressure on the land just outside protected areas, making the preserves more isolated and less ecologically functional. The paper also shows that deforestation of the areas around preserves increases as the human population growth rate increases.


Wittemeyer G, P Elsen, WT Bean, A Coleman, O Burton, and JS Brashares. Accelerated human population growth at protected area edges. Science 321:123-6.