Where in the World Should We Put  Protected Areas For Climate Change?


Spatial Planning for Protected Areas in Response to Climate Change (SPARC)

01. New 3-Year Project funded by The global environment facility (GEF) and Implemented by conservation international with many partner institutions.


02. will assess species and ecosystem responses to climate change to plan for effective protected areas and continued conservation. Focus on high biodiversity tropical realms that are under threat from human impact as well as climate change.

03. Will employ state of the science species models, ecosystem models, climate models and conservation planning tools to provide a comprehensive assessment for the tropics.

04. focused assessments in each of the three realms (neotropics; afrotropics; indo-malayan Tropics) will provide actionable information for real-world protected areas managers and decision makers.


“Planning for climate change is  key for effective protected areas and successful conservation.”

Tom lovejoy  |  george mason university, un foundation


SPARC Begins

Conservation International (CI) and six top international universities have announced the launch of a team of scientists that will provide tropical countries with the information needed to avoid extinctions due to climate change.  The project, Spatial Planning for Protected Areas in Response to Climate Change (SPARC), will use a big data approach to plan for effective conservation in the coming decades by modeling the climate change response of over 100,000 species in tropical ecosystems on three continents.  SPARC is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a multi-national fund that addresses global environmental problems.


"Parks protect species from extinction - from loss of habitat AND from climate change, if we put them in the right places." – Lee Hannah, Senior Scientist Climate Change Biology, Conservation International


Recognizing that species and ecosystems move to track suitable climate, the research team will anticipate these movements by drawing on information contributed from scientists around the planet. SPARC will model the effect of climate change on rare tropical plant and animal species.  This will allow governments, scientists and conservationists to identify regions and ecosystems that, if protected, preserve biodiversity and critical ecosystems.  The goal is to build networks of protected areas that reduce extinctions due to climate change, at the same time delivering clean water, tourism opportunities and numerous other benefits to people. 

Protected areas in Africa and South America help maintain rainfall, reducing the effects of climate change.
— Jon Lovett | University of Leeds

Modeling this number of species across all of the tropics requires next-generation science techniques that are being supported by national research funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US, NSERC in the UK and the Belmont Forum internationally.


"We will use computational engines, cyberinfrastructure and supercomputing supported by NSF programs to scale up our ecological models so that we can forecast how individual species respond to climate change, for hundreds of thousands of species. For the first time, we will be able to see what climate change truly means for the future of species and biomes." – Brain Enquist, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona in Tucson.


Impacts from climate change have already caused movements of species and ecosystems, often crossing national borders or the boundaries of protected areas. The ranges of species are shifting in different ways, as each tracks its unique climatic tolerances. The long-term effects of such changes could lead to novel combinations of species and new land-use conflicts. SPARC will use big data to document and synthesize the impacts of these shifts using multiple state-of-the-art climate change models, datasets and planning methods. That information will be used to pinpoint locations for new protection that will safeguard both present and future locations of species.

For the first time we will be able to see what climate change truly means for future of species and biomes.
— Brian Enquist | University of Arizona

Investments in conservation and their successful application are placed at risk by climate change.  SPARC aims to close the gap between current areas set aside for conservation and the lands that will become necessary to protect in the near future. SPARC will assess the effects of climate change in the three highest diversity tropical regions: South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. This focused analysis will help inform the development and management of national protected area networks by providing critical information on the movement of key species.  The regional perspective provides the basis for understanding what individual nations can do to protect biodiversity and what actions would require collaboration with neighboring countries.


 “The great thing about the big data approach we are taking with SPARC is that we will be able to produce locally useful information on a global scale” – Richard Corlett, Director of Center for Integrative Conservation, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens, Chinese Academy of Sciences


Renowned international researchers, including Richard Leakey (Stonybrook University; Turkana Basin Institute), Carlos Nobre (CAPES - Brazil), Rebecca Shaw (WWF) and Nijivalli H. Ravindranath (Indian Institute of Science) form the science guidance panel of the project.  They are helping design cutting-edge methods for the massive data collection, modeling and analysis the project will undertake. SPARC project management is provided by Conservation International and involves researchers from the University of Arizona (USA), Leeds University (UK), Catholic University of Chile (Chile), Stellenbosch University (South Africa), and Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens (China).