Evaluation of habitat protection under the European Natura 2000 conservation network – The example for Germany
Langhans, Simone D.
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The world´s largest network of protected areas—Natura 2000 (N2000)—has been implemented to protect Europe´s biodiversity. N2000 is built upon two cornerstones, the Birds Directive, which lists 691 bird species (plus one additional bird genus with no further classification) and the Habitats Directive, which lists next to a variety of species, 233 habitat types to be protected. There is evidence of the positive impact of the Directives on the EU´s biodiversity, although the overall improvement reported for species in favourable condition in the last assessment was low. However, most of the assessments are species focused, while habitats have received very little attention. Here we developed a generic workflow, which we exemplified for Germany, to assess the status of habitat coverage within the N2000 network combining information from publicly available data sources. Applying the workflow allows identification of gaps in habitat protection, followed by the prioritization of potential areas of high protection value using the conservation planning software Marxan. We found that, in Germany, N2000 covers all target habitats. However, common habitats were proportionally underrepresented relative to rare ones, which contrasts with studies focussing on the representation of species. Moreover, the German case study suggests that especially highly protected areas (i.e. covered by more than 90% with N2000 sites) build an excellent basis towards a cost-effective and efficient conservation network. Our workflow provides a generic approach to deal with the common problem of missing habitat distribution data outside of N2000 sites, information which is however crucial for managers to plan conservation actions appropriately across Europe. To avoid a biased representation of habitat types within N2000, our results underpin the importance of defining qualitative and quantitative conservation targets which will allow assesment of the trajectory of habitat protection in Europe as well as adjustment of the network accordingly—a future necessity in the light of climate change.