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Unnatural Selection: An Analysis of the Ecological Representativeness of Natural World Heritage Sites


  • *Special thanks to Connie Weil, Bill Cunningham, Heike Alberts, and five anonymous reviewers for their assistance in reviewing drafts of this paper. This work was done while the first author was at the University of Minnesota.


In 1994, the World Heritage Committee adopted a strategy to make World Heritage Sites more “representative.” This article assesses the biogeographic representativeness of natural World Heritage Sites, identifying well-represented and underrepresented biomes and ecological realms. The analysis reveals that sites are not representative in biogeographic terms. However, the identification of an optimal definition of representation is a controversial challenge. Furthermore, the value of representativeness as a goal for a program geared toward protecting exceptional sites is questionable. Instead, representativeness is of greater importance across all protected areas, leaving the World Heritage Convention to fulfill its original mission of protecting the “outstanding.”

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