Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 470–475
Conservation reserves are a fundamental tool for managing biodiversity. The so-called SLOSS debate – should we have a Single Large Or Several Small reserves – is central to conservation theory. Population dynamic models suggest that the design that minimizes the risk of extinction of a species is case-specific, with the optimal number of reserves ranging between one and very many. Uncertainty is pervasive in ecology, but, the previous analyses of the SLOSS debate have not considered how uncertainty in the model of extinction risk might influence the optimal design. Herein, we show that when uncertainty is considered, the SLOSS problem is simplified and driven more by the aspirations of the manager than the population dynamics of the species. In this case, the optimal solution is to have in the order of twenty or fewer reserves for any species. This result shows counter-intuitively that considering uncertainty actually simplifies rather than complicates decisions about designing nature reserves.