Conservation value of small reserves

Zoe M. Volenec, Andrew P. Dobson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


The importance of large reserves has been long maintained in the scientific literature, often leading to dismissal of the conservation potential of small reserves. However, over half the global protected-area inventory is composed of protected areas that are <100 ha, and the median size of added protected area is decreasing. Studies of the conservation value of small reserves and fragments of natural area are relatively uncommon in the literature. We reviewed SCOPUS and WOK for studies on small reserve and fragment contributions to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services, and fifty-eight taxon-specific studies were included in the review. Small reserves harbored substantial portions (upward of 50%) of regional species diversity for many taxa (birds, plants, amphibians, and small mammals) and even some endemic, specialist bird species. Unfortunately, small reserves and fragments almost always harbored more generalist and exotic species than large reserves. Community composition depended on habitat quality, surrounding land use (agricultural vs. urban), and reserve and fragment size, which presents opportunities for management and improvement. Small reserves also provided ecosystem services, such as pollination and biological pest control, and cultural services, such as recreation and improved human health. Limitations associated with small reserves, such as extinction debt and support of area-sensitive species, necessitate a complement of larger reserves. However, we argue that small reserves can make viable and significant contributions to conservation goals directly as habitat and indirectly by increasing landscape connectivity and quality to the benefit of large reserves. To effectively conserve biodiversity for future generations in landscapes fragmented by human development, small reserves and fragments must be included in conservation planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-79
Number of pages14
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Ecology


  • biodiversity conservation
  • conservación de la biodiversidad
  • ecosystem services
  • fragmentación del hábitat
  • habitat fragmentation
  • landscape matrix
  • matriz de paisajes
  • reserve size
  • servicios ambientales
  • tamaño de reserva


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