Context: Protected areas are a cornerstone of the global strategy for conserving biodiversity, and yet their efficacy in comparison to unprotected areas is rarely tested. In the highly fragmented forests of temperate regions, landscape context and forest history may be more important than protection status for plant species diversity. Objectives: To determine whether there are differences in plant diversity between protected areas and private lands while controlling for landscape context, forest age, and other important factors. Methods: We used a database of 156 one-hectare forest plots distributed over 120,000 km2 in the fragmented forests of southern Ontario to test whether protected areas and private forests differed in native species richness, relative abundance of exotic species, and the probability of finding species of conservation concern. Results: Plots with more forest on the surrounding landscape had higher native species richness, lower abundance of exotic species, and greater probability of supporting at least one species of conservation concern. Young forests tended to have higher abundance of exotics, and were less likely to support species of conservation concern. Surprisingly, privately owned forests had greater native species richness and were more likely to support species of conservation concern once these other factors were accounted for. In addition, there were significant interactions between ownership type, forest history, and landscape context. Conclusions: Our results highlight the importance of privately owned forests in this region, and the need to consider forest history and landscape context when comparing the efficacy of protected areas versus private land for sustaining biodiversity.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Exotic plants, Forest, Forest age, Forest area, Landscape context, Native plants, Rare plants, Species-at-risk
Persistent URL
Journal Landscape Ecology
McCune, J.L., van Natto, A. (Alyson), & MacDougall, A.S. (Andrew S.). (2017). The efficacy of protected areas and private land for plant conservation in a fragmented landscape. Landscape Ecology, 32(4), 871–882. doi:10.1007/s10980-017-0491-1