Integrating biodiversity priorities with conflicting socio-economic values in the Guinean-Congolian forest region

Identifying important areas for conserving biodiversity has attracted much discussion, but relatively few studies have dealt with conflicting socio-economic interests in a manner that is fully accountable. For the Guinean-Congolian forest region, we applied quantitative methods to select a network of coarse-scale areas sufficient to represent all forest mammal and bird species at least once. In a separate exercise, we prioritised 50% of the region to represent the same species as many times as possible. In both cases, we sought to minimise potential conflicts between conservation and other socio-economic imperatives by considering benefit-to-cost ratios. We found that by choosing areas to reduce conflicts, we were able to increase markedly the proportion of selected areas with low or medium conflict and decrease the proportion with high conflict. Nonetheless, we cannot expect that conservation goals will always be met unless some of these conflicts are faced and resolved. By working together with specialists from both the biological and socio-economic fields, we show that easily implemented quantitative tools could be useful for supporting the process of finding important areas for biodiversity conservation, while avoiding much of the conflict with other interests.