Advancing protected area effectiveness assessments by disentangling social-ecological interactions: A case study from the Luangwa Valley, Zambia

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Protected and conserved areas (PCAs) target at biodiversity conservation and human well-being, but often reflect low levels of effectiveness. Understanding PCAs social-ecological systems in which people and nature interact in so-called social-ecological interactions is key to understanding the roots of (in)effectiveness, and to leverage change toward resilient and sustainable systems. Despite this potential, social-ecological interactions in PCAs are commonly neglected in effectiveness evaluations. To address this gap, we elaborated a thorough understanding of the social-ecological interactions in PCAs through the following steps: In a first step, we extracted from scientific literature which social-ecological interactions influence the effectiveness of PCAs in general and derived influencing factors which shape those interactions. Based on these insights, we developed an analytical framework, which, in a second step, we applied to a case study in North Luangwa, Zambia. We elucidated three dimensions of social-ecological interactions occurring in the study area: care (e.g., conservation programs), conflict (e.g., disease transmission), and use (e.g., hunting). We visualized relationships between these interactions and associated key variables in a causal loop diagram. Finally, we drew on the case study in Zambia's Luangwa Valley to propose system-specific metrics for key variables central to the social-ecological structure of the study area to make effectiveness measurable. Our approach allows for linking site-specific social-ecological interactions to PCA effectiveness. More generally, our findings call for the consideration of the relationships between people and nature when assessing conservation effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12974
JournalConservation Science and Practice
Issue number8
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 08.2023

Bibliographical note

We thank all interviewees for talking to us about protected areas and their interactions with nature and wildlife. Ethical approval has been obtained by the Ethics Advisory Board of Leuphana University. We thank P. J. Muyoma for help in the field and translations, C. Lakemann for the identification of stakeholders, V. Widawski for transcription of the interviews and E. Gross for practical advice. JL acknowledges funding through a Robert‐Bosch Junior Professorship, which enabled the research project “Wildlife, Values, Justice: Reconciling Sustainability in African Protected Areas.” AG appreciates the financial support of the German Research Foundation (DFG; PArCS project #409732304). We thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Conservation Science and Practice published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for Conservation Biology.