The effectiveness of protected areas at conserving biodiversity

This 23-month research fellowship will investigate the effectiveness of protected areas as biodiversity conservation tools. This is an applied project based in Montpellier (France), in strong collaboration with BirdLife International and the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge (UK). The recruited candidate will become one of 15 fellows in the Inspire4Nature project, a unique training programme at the interface between academic excellence and the world of international biodiversity conservation organisations.


The nature of the funding means that there are very strict conditions of eligibility, in particular: candidates must have a Master’s degree but not yet a PhD; and they must have not resided in France for more than one out of the past three years (see details below).

Deadline for applications: 8 November 2019.

Research topic

Biodiversity is declining across the world, with  thousands of species at risk of extinction and major declines in animal populations. With habitat loss and degradation being the most important pressure to biodiversity, protected areas are widely recognised as the most important conservation tool (Watson et al. 2014). They currently cover about 14.9% of the global land surface and 7.3% of the oceans (UNEP-WCMC et al. 2018), and the world’s governments have committed to increase this even further: in 2010, the signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity endorsed the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including Aichi Target 11 calling for an expansion of the protected area coverage to at least 17% of terrestrial areas and 10% of marine areas by 2020, focusing on well-connected, effectively and equitably managed, and ecologically representative areas of particular importance for biodiversity.

Source: Protected Planet Report 2018.

Whereas protected area coverage has been increasing steadily in the past decades, it is not necessarily doing so strategically to protect those areas that are the most important to ensure biodiversity persistence (Venter et al. 2018). Indeed, only 21% of areas identified as Key Biodiversity Areas – i.e., sites contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity – are fully protected, whereas 35% have no protection at all (UNEP-WCMC et al. 2018). Furthermore, there is wide variation in the extent to which protected areas, once established, are effective at retaining the biodiversity within their boundaries, with many of them holding declining populations (Geldmann et al. 2018) and lacking adequate resources in terms of staffing and budget (Coad et al. 2019).

This project will investigate the effectiveness of Protected Areas as biodiversity conservation tools, particularly those covering Key Biodiversity Areas, and the extent to which they ensure the long-term persistence of the biodiversity within their boundaries. The research will have a large-scale scope (continental to global). Depending on the interests of the recruited fellow, it may focus on either terrestrial or marine Protected Areas, or both. In order to take advantage of the best existing datasets on the spatial distribution of species, the project will focus on vertebrate species, particularly birds. The fellow will be responsible for developing the details of the project in collaboration with the supervisors.

It is expected that this project will contribute to more accurate measures of the past impact and future value of protected areas, guiding and inform informing priorities for policy-making.

Related references
  • Coad, L., Watson, J.E., Geldmann, J., Burgess, N.D., Leverington, F., Hockings, M., Knights, K. & Di Marco, M. (2019). Widespread shortfalls in protected area resourcing undermine efforts to conserve biodiversity. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 17, 259–264.
  • Geldmann, J., Coad, L., Barnes, M.D., Craigie, I.D., Woodley, S., Balmford, A., Brooks, T.M., Hockings, M., Knights, K., Mascia, M.B., McRae, L. & Burgess, N.D. (2018). A global analysis of management capacity and ecological outcomes in terrestrial protected areas. Conservation Letters, 11, e12434.
  • UNEP-WCMC, IUCN & NGS. (2018). Protected Planet Report 2018. Cambridge UK, Gland, Switzerland, and Washington, D.C., USA.
  • Venter, O., Magrach, A., Outram, N., Klein, C.J., Possingham, H.P., Marco, M.D. & Watson, J.E.M. (2018). Bias in protected-area location and its effects on long-term aspirations of biodiversity conventions. Conservation Biology, 32, 127–134.
  • Watson, J.E.M., Dudley, N., Segan, D.B. & Hockings, M. (2014). The performance and potential of protected areas. Nature, 515, 67–73.

The PDFs of these articles can be downloaded from here.

Ideal candidate

Required for this position:

  • A Master’s degree or equivalent
  • Be an early-stage researcher: within the first four years of your research career, no doctoral degree yet. More details
    You must, at the date when your work contract starts, be in the first four years of your research career, and not yet have obtained a doctoral degree. These four years are measured from the date you first obtained your Master’s degree, in full-time equivalent (meaning that part-time research experience is counted pro-rata). For example: suppose obtained your Master’s diploma on the 01/02/2015 and your contract starts 01/02/2020. If you have been working full time in research since this date, you will have 5 years research experience when the contract starts, and therefore you are not eligible. If you spent those five years working part time in research, for example in a job where 50% of your time is dedicated to research, you are eligible, as you only have 2.5 years of full-time equivalent research experience. If you have not worked in research since you finished your Master’s, you have zero research experience and are therefore eligible. Purely technical jobs (e.g. field/lab assistant) are not considered research experience. Note: if you are currently doing your PhD you are not eligible either because you will need to work full time on this project, and that is not compatible with working on/finishing a PhD at the same time.
  • Meet the mobility rule: you cannot have resided in France more than 12 months within the past 3 years. More details
    Positions are open to all nationalities (including refugee scientists), but you must not have resided or carried out your main activity (work, studies, etc.) in France for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the contract starts. Compulsory national service, short stays such as holidays, and time spent as part of a procedure for obtaining refugee status under the Geneva Convention are not taken into account.
  • A good proficiency in the English language More details
    At least B2 level in understanding, speaking and writing as defined by the European Language Levels Self-Assessment Grid.
  • A strong academic record in Ecology or a related field. More details
    Based on your undergraduate and graduate grades.
  • Have previously completed at least one individual research project lasting ≥ 4 months More details
    Either as part of your academic training (e.g., a Master’s thesis project) or as an individual side project. Make sure you mention this in your cover letter.
  • Proficiency in the R language. More details
    Please clarify in your cover letter how you have used R in the past and what your level of proficiency is.
  • Good knowledge of statistical analyses. More details
    Please clarify in your cover letter the type of statistical analyses you are familiar with.

Desirable for this position:

  • Experience in spatial analyses with Geographic Information Systems.
  • Experience in scientific communication and outreach.
  • Conversational skills in French.

Working conditions

Institutional context and supervision

You will be hired by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the largest public research organisation in France, and physically based at the Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CEFE), in Montpellier, France. The CEFE is the largest research centre in Ecology in France, and a Joint Research Unit of the CNRS and the University of Montpellier. The academic supervisor of this project is Ana Rodrigues, a CNRS Senior Researcher.

This project is in close collaboration with BirdLife International and the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation partnership, whose work focuses on the conservation of birds, their habitats and global biodiversity. You will interact strongly with the Science, Policy and Information Management Department, which carries out research to underpin the conservation programmes of the BirdLife Partnership, being supervised by Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Chief Scientist. UNEP-WCMC is the executive agency of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UN Environment) for biodiversity assessments. A world leader in biodiversity knowledge, it specializes in measuring biodiversity change, the causes of that change, evaluating options, and improving the capability of others to do the same. You will be supervised by Nina Bhola, Senior Programme Officer at the UNEP-WCMC Conserving Land and Seascapes Programme.

This is a desk-based project mainly based in Montpellier, but with national and international travels for meetings and conferences, and in particular to Cambridge (UK), where BirdLife and UNEP-WCMC are based.

As a researcher in the Inspire4Nature project, you will benefit from:

  • A 23-month employment contract with full social security coverage.More details
    You will be hired as an early-stage researcher by the CNRS. This will be a fixed-term contract (23 months), working full time and in exclusivity for this project. You will have the same working rights as other employees at the CNRS, including the right to holidays and social security coverage (e.g. sick leave, maternity leave).
  • A very attractive salary, including a mobility allowance and (if applicable) a family allowance. Net monthly income ca. 2000-2200€/month (depending on family circumstances).More details
    The salary is calculated in accordance with the MSCA regulations for Early Stage Researchers. It includes three components:
    • A living allowance of €3,452.1/month.
    • A mobility allowance of €600/month.
    • A family allowance of €500/month. This only applies if at the beginning of the contract you have a family. Family is defined as persons linked to you by (i) marriage, or (ii) a relationship with equivalent status to a marriage recognised by the legislation of the country or region where this relationship was formalised; or (iii) dependent children who are actually being maintained by you.

    This is the total contribution the European Union gives towards your salary. The net salary you will receive in your bank account (see above) is lower because of tax deductions and mandatory contributions (e.g. to social security) both by yourself and by the CNRS. The net value above is an estimate, after deduction of income tax.

  • Joining a network of 15 research fellows working at the Science-Policy interface. More details
    You will benefit from the Inspire4Nature network-wide training programme, including training in communicating science to a broader audience and participation in the 2020 World Conservation Congress (in Marseille) and the 2021 International Conference on Conservation Biology (Africa, location tbd). You will also collaborate with the other 14 fellows in joint projects in scientific communication and carbon offsetting.

Application procedure

Timeline for applications


  • Deadline for submitting applications: 8 November 2019 (midnight, Paris time).
  • Short-listing phase: until 22 November 2019 More details
    We will first check for eligibility, and then shortlist eligible candidates based on academic background, scientific merit, motivation, and fit to the position. We will let you know if you have been shortlisted for the interview by the 22 November 2019.
  • Interviews: 5-6 December 2019 – please keep these dates open More details
    Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an individual interview, either in person or remotely (e.g., by Skype). You will be asked to send, before the interviews, a short powerpoint presentation explaining how you envisage answering the objectives of the project.
  • Final decision: mid-December 2019.
  • Position starts: as soon as possible, and no later than 1 March 2020.

Preparing your application file

Each application will be anonymised during the short-listing phase to reduce biases associated with gender, nationality, ethnicity, age etc. Why?

We are committed to providing equal opportunities to all eligible applicants. Selection will thus be based on merits and abilities that are directly relevant the position, without regard to sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. Anonymising your application will help us to pursue this goal by reducing the risk of unconscious biases affecting decisions during the shortlisting process.

First, prepare a complete application file for each position, including the following:

  • Application form  More details
    Download the form from here, complete it, sign it, and save it as a PDF. This form includes a request for the contact details of two referees: professionals who have worked closely with you, and who can comment on your capacity to pursue this research project. Do not ask referees for reference letters, we will contact them directly.
  • Cover letter  More details
    Explain why you are applying for this particular position, and what makes you a good candidate. Make your cover letter as anonymous as possible: do not include any personal data (e.g. name, date of birth, civil status...) and minimise the information from where people can deduce your age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, civil status etc. For example, if you need to explain a career brake for parental reasons, say "parental leave" rather than "maternal/paternal leave". Do not say things like "I am a young mother" or "I am a mature student". Do not sign the cover letter. We do realise that your cover letter may not be perfectly anonymous, but make it as anonymous as feasible without erasing important information about your training and your experience.
  • Curriculum Vitae  More details
    Your complete CV, up to three pages long. Make it as anonymous as possible: do not include any photo or personal data (e.g. name, date of birth, civil status...) and minimise the information from where people can deduce your age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, civil status etc. For example, if you need to explain a career brake for parental reasons, say "parental leave" rather than "maternal/paternal leave". If you list a publication you have authored, replace your name by "CANDIDATE" in the authors list. You do need to clarify how fluent you are in English and in the language of the country you are applying to, but leave out your native tongue if it makes your nationality obvious. We do realise that your CV can't be perfectly anonymous: for example, you need to say which universities you attended, and places where you have worked, from where it is often (but not always) possible to infer your nationality. But make it as anonymous as feasible without erasing important information about your training and your experience.
  • Academic diplomas and transcripts  More details
    A scan of your academics diplomas (undergraduate and Master’s) and of the respective transcript. The diploma should indicate the date when you have been awarded the degree. An academic transcript is a list of the courses/programmes you have been enrolled on and the grades that you have received during your programme of study. Both the diploma and the transcript should be official documents from your institution. You need to have completed the degree by the time your contract starts. But if you have not yet completed by the time you submit the application (and thus do not yet have a diploma), please submit evidence that you are enrolled in the degree and that you are due to finish before February 2020. Also submit a transcript for the courses you have already completed, and a list of the courses you are currently enrolled in. If your degree diploma and transcript are not in English, you need to include a scan of the originals AND a translation into English. If your originals are in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Danish or German, you can at this stage make the translations yourself. If they are in a different language, you need to send an official translation by a certified professional. If you are offered the position, you may need to send official translations later.

Second, save the documents above into two PDF documents:

  • One containing the Application Form and the Cover letter, saved as yourname_letter.pdf (e.g. JuliaMartinez_letter.pdf). Maximum size is 3 MB.
  • Another containing the CV, the Diplomas and the Transcripts, saved as yourname_cv.pdf (e.g. XieWong_cv.pdf). Maximum size is 3 Mb.

Submitting your application


Submission must be done through the CNRS job portal:

  1. Go here to create an account in the portal. No need to enter your CV at this stage. No need to enter much information here about your qualifications, experience etc. (we will not look at any of it - only the information in the documents you will upload will be considered).
  2. Go here to find the position's advert in the portal, and click on the "Apply" button. (If you are not already connected to your account, you will be prompted to login; note that you can change the language to English on the top right corner)
  3. Upload your file yourname_cv.pdf  (with your CV, diplomas and transcripts; max size is 3 Mb)
  4. Upload your file yourname_letter.pdf  (with the application form and the cover letter; max size is 3 Mb)
  5. Click "Send" to submit your application.

If you have trouble combining scans of your diplomas and transcripts into a PDF file smaller than 3 Mb, you can also submit a file just with your CV through the CNRS portal and then send the complete file (with CV + diplomas + transcripts) to Pauline Roger.

Only applications that are complete, in English, that respect the application instructions, and that have been submitted through the CNRS Job Portal before the 8 November 2019 (midnight, Paris time) will be considered eligible.

If you have any questions, please check first if they are already answered in the sections above, and if not contact Pauline Roger.

Academic Host

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Montpellier, France
Ana Rodrigues


BirdLife International
Cambridge, UK
Stu Butchart
Paul F. Donald
UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
Cambridge, UK
Nina Bhola
Elise Belle