Spatial Priorities for Conserving the most intact biodiverse forests within Central Africa
The forests of Central Africa contain some of Earth's few remaining intact forests. These forests are increasingly threatened by infrastructure development, agriculture, and unsustainable extraction of natural resources (e.g. minerals, bushmeat, and timber), all of which is leading to deforestation and forest degradation, particularly defaunation, and hence causing declines in biodiversity and a significant increase in carbon emissions. Given the pervasive nature of these threats, the global importance of Central African forests for biodiversity conservation, and the limited resources for conservation and sustainable management, there is a need to identify where the most important areas are to orientate conservation efforts. We developed a novel approach for identifying spatial priorities where conservation efforts can maximize biodiversity benefits within Central Africa's most intact forest areas. We found that the Democratic Republic of Congo has the largest amount of priority areas in the region, containing more than half, followed by Gabon, the Republic of Congo and Cameroon. We compared our approach to one that solely prioritizes forest intactness and one that aims to achieve only biodiversity representation objectives. We found that when priorities are only based on forest intactness (without considering biodiversity representation), there are significantly fewer biodiversity benefits and vice versa. We therefore recommend multi-objective planning that includes biodiversity representation and forest intactness to ensure that both objectives are maximized. These results can inform various types of conservation strategies needed within the region, including land-use planning, jurisdictional REDD + initiatives, and performance related carbon payments, protected area expansion, community forest management, and forest concession plans.