Scott Ford

Scott holds a B.S. in environmental geosciences from the University at Buffalo, and a M.S. in geography from the University of Alabama. He has led applied conservation projects in the eastern United States, the cloud forests of Peru, and the Ecuadorian Amazon. Scott’s research will focus on protected area dynamics (changes in protected area boundaries and designations through time). He will identify global trends in protected area dynamics, explain the sociopolitical and environmental drivers of these changes, and assess the consequences for biodiversity.

PhD project: Implications of temporal dynamics of Protected Area boundaries and designations for Protected Area-based biodiversity indicators

Protected Area coverage is a key indicator for measuring progress towards international policy commitments and is calculated using information from the World Database on Protected Areas, WDPA. Yet, Protected Areas (PAs) are not static elements in the landscape: they often change in size and shape, management objectives, and the legislation that regulates their level of protection might also change. Understanding the dynamics of PA boundaries and designations – and of the drivers behind these changes, and of their potential effects – is fundamental to develop robust biodiversity indicators and predict future trends to guide policy decisions.

In response to these issues, this PhD project will build on and further strengthen the WDPA (>230,000 records, 225 countries/territories) as well as advance the understanding of the dynamics in the global protected area estate as outlined in recent research by:

  1. Consolidating and standardising historical versions of the WDPA into a temporal database that reflects the dynamic nature of PAs, and using this to develop and test a method for tracking changes in PA coverage in a spatially-explicit way;
  2. Assessing implications of the dynamic nature of PAs to global measures of PA coverage and performance;
  3. Analysing political, economic and environmental factors explaining variations in the dynamic of PAs across countries.

The expected results will provide better estimates of change in Protected Area coverage with time, with direct applications to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, Sustainable Development Goals and EU Biodiversity Strategy, enhancement of the value of the WDPA as the key database for the calculation of these indicators, and better understanding of the factors driving PA dynamics across countries.


Ford, S.A., Jepsen, M.R., Kingston, N., Lewis, E., Brooks, T.M., MacSharry, B., Mertz, O. (2020) Deforestation leakage undermines conservation value of tropical and subtropical forest protected areas. Global Ecology and Biogeography 29, 2014-2024. Open Access Repository

Academic Host

University of Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark
Ole Mertz
Martin Rudbeck Jepsen


UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
Cambridge, UK
Brian MacSharry
Naomi Kingston
International Union for Conservation of Nature Cambridge, UK
Thomas Brooks Supervisor