Reserve networks are essential for the long-term persistence of biodiversity. To fulfil this goal, they need not only to represent all species to be conserved but also to be sufficiently large to ensure species’ persistence over time. An extensive literature exists on the required size of individual reserves, but to date there has been little investigation regarding the appropriate size of entire networks. The IUCN’s proposal that 10% of each nation be reserved is often presented as a desirable target, but concerns have been raised that this is insufficient and is dictated primarily by considerations of feasibility and politics.
We found that the minimum percentage of area needed to represent all species within a region increases with the number of targeted species, the size of selection units, and the level of species’ endemism. This has important implications for conservation planning. First, no single universal target is appropriate, as ecosystems or nations with higher diversity and/or higher levels of endemism require substantially larger fractions of their areas to be protected. Second, a minimum conservation network sufficient to capture the diversity of vertebrates is not expected to be effective for biodiversity in general. Third, the 10% target proposed by the IUCN is likely to be wholly insufficient, and much larger fractions of area are estimated to be needed, especially in tropical regions.