Overlooked risks and opportunities for global protected areas revealed by mapping groundwatersheds

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David Serrano, Xander Huggins , Tom Gleeson, Sam Zipper , Florian Jehn, Melissa M. Rohde, Robin Abell, Kari Vigerstol, Andreas Hartmann 


Protected areas are a key tool for conserving biodiversity, sustaining ecosystem services and improving human well-being. Global initiatives that aim to expand and connect protected areas generally focus on controlling ‘above ground’ impacts such as land use, overlooking the potential for human actions in adjacent areas to affect protected areas through groundwater flow. Here, we assess the potential footprint of these impacts by mapping groundwatersheds, a groundwater-modified watershed delineation. We find that most groundwatersheds (83%) of the world’s protected areas are partially unprotected and are overall only 52% protected by surface area. These findings highlight a widespread potential risk to protected areas if activities affecting groundwater are uncontrolled within their groundwatersheds, underscoring the need for groundwatershed-focused protection measures. Delineating groundwatersheds can catalyze needed discussions about protected area connectivity and effectiveness, and investments in groundwatershed conservation and management that can help ensure groundwater-dependent ecosystems are uncompromised by avoidable external underground threats.




Natural Resources and Conservation, Water Resource Management


Groundwatershed, Protected areas, Global


Published: 2022-09-23 11:19

Last Updated: 2022-09-23 18:19


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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