Sustainable use protected areas catalyze improved livelihoods in rural Amazonia



Sustainable use protected areas (PAs) have contributed to the conservation of tropical biodiversity by discouraging deforestation in many countries, but their social and economic benefits for local stakeholders remain poorly understood. The Amazon is home to the largest tropical PA system on Earth, which aims to safeguard its rich biological and cultural diversity. Aligning the protection of biodiversity with social aspirations is therefore imperative in this region. Our results demonstrate that sustainable use PAs can catalyze a wide range of catalysts, including multi-partnerships, strong local associations, land tenure, co-management, economic subsidies, strong leadership, public policies and polycentric governance, leading to marked improvements in local well-being beyond biodiversity. protection. Such a rare conservation light spot elucidates potential pathways that may foster potentially scalable social and ecological outcomes in the Amazon lowlands.


Finding new ways to reconcile socio-economic well-being and the sustainability of nature is of crucial importance for contemporary societies, especially in tropical developing countries where the maintenance of local livelihoods is often in conflict. with the conservation of biodiversity. Many projects aimed at reconciling biodiversity conservation goals with social aspirations within protected areas (PAs) have failed in one or two respects. Here, we study the social consequences of living inside or outside sustainably-used PAs in the Brazilian Amazon, using data from over 100 local communities along a 2,000 km section of a great Amazonian river. PAs in this region are now widely regarded as conservation triumphs, having implemented community co-management of fisheries and reestablishing overexploited wildlife populations. We document clear differences in social well-being in communities inside and outside PAs. More specifically, communities within PAs benefit from better access to health care, education, electricity, basic sanitation and communication infrastructure. In addition, living in a PA was the best indicator of household wealth, followed by money transfer programs and the number of people per household. These collective co-benefits clearly influence life satisfaction, with only 5% of all adult residents in PAs aspiring to relocate to urban centers, compared to 58% of adults in unprotected areas. Our results clearly demonstrate that large-scale “win-win” conservation solutions are possible in tropical countries with limited financial and human resources and reinforce the need to truly empower local people in integrated conservation-development programs.


  • Author contributions: research designed by JVC-S., CAP, CTF and PFML; JVC-S., JEH, CTF and PFML carried out research; JVC-S., CAP and PFML analyzed the data; and JVC-S., CAP, JEH, TH, CTF, RJL and PFML wrote the article.

  • The authors declare no competing interests.

  • This article is a direct PNAS submission.

  • This article contains additional information online at

Data availability

All study data is included in the article and / or SI Annex.

  • Accepted August 14, 2021.


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