What are the effects of nature conservation on human well-being? A systematic map of empirical evidence from developing countries

Madeleine C. McKinnon, Samantha H. Cheng, Samuel Dupre, Janet Edmond, Ruth Garside, Louise Glew, Margaret B. Holland, Eliot Levine, Yuta J. Masuda, Daniel C. Miller, Isabella Oliveira, Justine Revenaz, Dilys Roe, Sierra Shamer, David Wilkie, Supin Wongbusarakum, Emily Woodhouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Global policy initiatives and international conservation organizations have sought to emphasize and strengthen the link between the conservation of natural ecosystems and human development. While many indices have been developed to measure various social outcomes to conservation interventions, the quantity and strength of evidence to support the effects, both positive and negative, of conservation on different dimensions of human well-being, remain unclear, dispersed and inconsistent. Methods: We searched 11 academic citation databases, two search engines and 30 organisational websites for relevant articles using search terms tested with a library of 20 relevant articles. Key informants were contacted with requests for articles and possible sources of evidence. Articles were screened for relevance against predefined inclusion criteria at title, abstract and full text levels according to a published protocol. Included articles were coded using a questionnaire. A critical appraisal of eight systematic reviews was conducted to assess the reliability of methods and confidence in study findings. A visual matrix of the occurrence and extent of existing evidence was also produced. Results: A total of 1043 articles were included in the systematic map database. Included articles measured effects across eight nature conservation-related intervention and ten human well-being related outcome categories. Linkages between interventions and outcomes with high occurrence of evidence include resource management interventions, such as fisheries and forestry, and economic and material outcomes. Over 25 % of included articles examined linkages between protected areas and aspects of economic well-being. Fewer than 2 % of articles evaluated human health outcomes. Robust study designs were limited with less than 9 % of articles using quantitative approaches to evaluate causal effects of interventions. Over 700 articles occurred in forest biomes with less than 50 articles in deserts or mangroves, combined. Conclusions: The evidence base is growing on conservation-human well-being linkages, but biases in the extent and robustness of articles on key linkages persist. Priorities for systematic review, include linkages between marine resource management and economic/material well-being outcomes; and protected areas and governance outcomes. Greater and more robust evidence is needed for many established interventions to better understand synergies and trade-offs between interventions, in particular those that are emerging or contested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number58
JournalEnvironmental Evidence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 27 2016


  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Human development
  • Human welfare
  • Natural resource management
  • Poverty
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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