Conservation planning for people and nature in a Chilean biodiversity hotspot.
The Mediterranean-type climate region of Chile is a globally unique biodiversity hotspot but its protected area system does not adequately represent the biological diversity, nor does it provide equitable access to people. We explored options to expand the protected area system to cost-effectively improve the conservation of forest ecosystem types while simultaneously enhancing social accessibility to protected areas. Social accessibility is defined as the access of municipalities to cultural ecosystem services provided by protected areas which depends on distance to highly demanded protected areas and income of the municipalities. Using systematic conservation planning methods, we identified priority areas for extending the existing protected area system that: (a) minimise land acquisition cost, (b) maximise social accessibility and (c) optimise for both cost and accessibility. The results show that it is possible to improve social accessibility while simultaneously minimising land cost. Considering cost alone, the protected area system could be expanded to improve biodiversity conservation by 86% at the cost of $47 million USD, which would also increase the accessibility of protected areas by 12%. Accessibility can be increased by a further 18% by jointly considering cost and accessibility without compromising the cost or biodiversity performance. New private conservation policy developed in Chile could help offset the costs of conservation through novel public-private partnerships. Our results can provide specific guidance to policymakers to strategically identify new locations for protected areas which cost-effectively improve biodiversity conservation, while at the same time reducing inequality in social accessibility. The consideration of social access in reserve design could increase the success of protected areas as a conservation tool by bringing people closer to nature.