Prioritizing India’s Landscapes for Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Human Well-Being

Arjun Srivathsa, Divya Vasudev, Tanaya Nair, Stotra Chakrabarti, Pranav Chanchani, Ruth DeFries, Arpit Deomurari, Sutirtha Dutta, Dipankar Ghose, Varun R. Goswami, Rajat Nayak, Amrita Neelakantan, Prachi Thatte, Srinivas Vaidyanathan, Madhu Verma, Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Mahesh Sankaran, Uma Ramakrishnan | 2023


Biodiversity conservation and human well-being are tightly interlinked. Yet, mismatches in the scale at which these two priority issues are planned and implemented have exacerbated biodiversity loss, erosion of ecosystem services and declining human quality of life. India houses the second largest human population on the planet, while < 5% of the country’s land area is effectively protected for conservation. This warrants landscape-level conservation planning through a judicious mix of land-sharing and land-sparing approaches combined with the co-production of ecosystem services. Through a multifaceted assessment, we prioritize spatial extents of land parcels that, in the face of anthropogenic threats, can safeguard conservation landscapes across India’s biogeographic zones. We found that only a fraction (~15%) of the priority areas identified here are encompassed under India’s extant Protected Area network, and furthermore, that several landscapes of high importance were omitted from all previous global-scale assessments. We then examined the spatial congruence of priority areas with administrative units earmarked for economic development by the Indian government and propose management zoning through state-driven and participatory approaches. Our spatially explicit insights can help meet the twin goals of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in India and other countries across the Global South.