Citation: Ali-Shtayeh, M. S., Jamous, Rana M., Abu Zaitoun, Salam Y. (2022). Detection of natural ecosystem-units, that are un-represented or underrepresented in protected areas, by using systematic conservation planning, can guide decision-makers, to establish or improve, management for a better representation of its biodiversity. Biodiversity & Environmental Sciences Studies Series, 17 (2), 13-31. (ISSN: 1818-3751)
Most of the biodiversity in the State of Palestine is concentrated in about 51 nature reserves or protected areas (approved by the Palestinian Council of Ministers) (50 of them in the West Bank and one in the Gaza Strip). In order for these protected areas to play their role in protecting biodiversity, they must be characterized by representation (of the country’s ecosystem units), comprehensiveness, balance, sufficiency, consistency, integration, cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. That is why the designation and management of protected areas is a critical component of national efforts to conserve biodiversity and protect the environment. Therefore, this study aimed to: Investigate the units of natural ecosystems prevailing in each of the protected areas and the extent to which the protected areas in the West Bank represent the units of ecosystems, and determine the remaining unprotected natural area of each ecosystem unit. This study also aimed to determine the necessary land needs to represent all units of ecosystems in protected areas so that at least 17% of each unit of the terrestrial natural ecosystem units is preserved. In order to predict the need for land needed to protect biodiversity, including existing protected areas, as well as to designate new complementary protected areas for the conservation of plant genetic resources in situ, we studied the extent to which the network of protected areas (natural reserves) in the West Bank represents its ecosystem units using Systematic Conservation Planning method and then determining the land needs to represent all units of ecosystems in protected areas by at least (17%) according to the CBD (Aichi Biodiversity Targets, Category C Target 11). In order to determine the units of the terrestrial ecosystem in the West Bank, we relied on the map of ecosystem units in historical Palestine available in BioGIS (2022) database. In order to conduct a spatial analysis of this map, through systematic conservation planning, we have adopted the map of protected areas approved by the Environmental Quality Authority. Since the intent of the protected area map was to intersect with the map of ecosystem units, we decided to avoid parallel land uses, for example, agriculture within nature reserves or infrastructure (roads) that overlapped with built-up areas From the analysis of ecosystem units versus the use of land as protected areas (natural reserves), the intersection between the map of ecosystem units and the map of protected areas (natural reserves) was studied, thus determining the prevailing ecosystem units in these areas, as well as determining the total areas of the ecosystem units in the West Bank. The percentages of representation of ecosystem units in protected areas were also calculated, as well as the identification and calculation of the areas of the remaining unprotected natural areas. In order to predict the land needs to be needed to protect biodiversity, including the lands of the existing protected areas, as well as to designate new complementary reserves to conserve plant genetic resources in situ, the extent to which the protected areas (natural reserves) in the West Bank represent the units of the ecosystems therein at present were studied. Accordingly, the land needs were determined to represent all units of ecosystems in protected areas at a percentage of no less than (17%) of each of the ecosystem units existing in the State of Palestine. The study revealed the presence of eleven ecosystem units, three of which constitute about 87% of the total area of the West Bank: Evergreen Mediterranean maquis (EMM) (42%), Semi-steppe batha (SSB) (27%), and Shrubby steppes in arid climate (SSAC) (18%), while the other eight ecosystem units constitute only about 13% of the total area. The analysis of ecosystem units versus land use as protected areas (natural reserves), and the study of the intersection between the map of ecosystem units and the map of protected areas (natural reserves), have shown that the spatial distribution of protected natural areas is uneven between the different ecosystem units, especially east and west of the Nablus Highlands - Jerusalem – Hebron line. While there are a few relatively small protected areas west of this line, there are many large protected areas east of it. Since each ecosystem unit has its own unique biodiversity, we assume that a well-represented system of protected areas of all ecosystem units will represent the overall biodiversity of the area. In general, the results of the analysis of the representation of ecosystem units in the natural protected areas in the West Bank - State of Palestine as of 2021, showed that these units are either not represented: SDSC and AVMC; or underrepresented: EMM, AVAC, MSJR; or adequately represented: SSAC; or over-represented: SSB, DSs, MS, DS and PF based on Aichi Biodiversity Targets, Category C Target 11 - Maintain 17% of each terrestrial ecosystem type. Based on the above, the needs (to protect the biodiversity and ecosystems on site) were calculated from the natural lands to be added to the existing protected areas or nature reserves, in order to ensure that all units of the ecosystem are properly represented in the natural protected areas in the West Bank - State of Palestine. The results show that the needs for in situ representation and protection of biodiversity of unrepresented ecosystem units of natural lands can be met by creating appropriate new protected areas, with areas ranging between 0.056 - 26.2 km2 depending on the relevant ecosystem unit (AVMC and SDSC). In contrast, there is no need to add natural lands to protected areas located within adequately- or over-represented ecosystem units (SSAC, MS, DSs, DS, PF, and SSB). As for the underrepresented ecosystem units EMM, MSJR, and AVAC, their representation can be increased to the appropriate level by adding the necessary areas of natural land to the existing protected areas and/or creating new protected areas. This study also presents proposed solutions for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems, in the State of Palestine, based on the integration between biodiversity in protected and unprotected natural areas.