What are Key Biodiversity Areas?

Raja Brooke's Birdwing, © Tris Allinson

Key Biodiversity Areas extend the Important Bird Area (IBA) concept and aim to other taxonomic groups and are also identified using globally standardised criteria. They are being identified for a range of animal and plant groups, on land, in freshwater and at sea.

Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are sites of global significance for the conservation of biodiversity. They are identified nationally using simple, globally standardised criteria and thresholds, based on the needs of biodiversity requiring safeguards at the site scale (Eken et al. 2004, Langhammer et al. 2007). As the building blocks for designing the ecosystem approach and maintaining effective ecological networks, Key Biodiversity Areas are the starting point for landscape-level conservation planning. Governments, inter-governmental organisations, NGOs, the private sector and other stakeholders can use KBAs as a tool to identify and augment national systems of globally important sites for conservation (Langhammer et al. 2007).

KBAs extend the Important Bird Area (IBA) concept to other taxonomic groups and are now being identified in many parts of the world, by a range of organisations. Examples include Important Plant Areas (IPAs) (Anderson 2002, Plantlife International 2004), Prime Butterfly Areas (van Swaay and Warren 2003), Important Mammal Areas (Linzey 2002) and Important Sites for Freshwater Biodiversity, with prototype criteria developed for freshwater molluscs and fish (Darwall and Vié 2005) and for marine systems (Edgar et al. 2008). 

The aim of the KBA approach is to identify, document and protect networks of sites that are critical for the conservation of global biodiversity. Here a ‘site’ means an area (whatever the size) that can be delimited and, potentially, managed for conservation. As with IBAs, KBAs are identified based on populations of species that are threatened or geographically concentrated. All IBAs are KBAs, but some KBAs are not IBAs (i.e. they are significant for the conservation of other taxa, but not birds). Nevertheless, the IBA network has proved a good approximation to the overall network of KBAs, as it includes the bulk of other target species and the most significant sites. IBAs are thus an excellent starting point for immediate conservation planning and action—other sites can be added to complete the network as data become available.


Anderson, S (2002) Identifying Important Plant Areas. London, UK: Plantlife International.
Darwall, W. and Vié, J. C. (2005) Identifying important sites for conservation of freshwater biodiversity: extending the species-based approach. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN.
Edgar G. J., Langhammer P. F., Allen G., Brooks T. M., Brodie J., Crosse W., Da Silva N., Fishpool L. D. C., Foster M. N., Knox D. H., Mccosker, J. E., Mcmanus, R., Miller A. J. K. and Mugo R. (2008) Key Biodiversity Areas as globally significant target sites for the conservation of marine biological diversity. Aquatic Conservation. 18: 969–983.
Eken, G., Bennun, L., Brooks, T. M., Darwall, W., Fishpool, L. D. C., Foster, M., Knox, D., Langhammer, P., Matiku, P., Radford, E., Salaman, P., Sechrest, W., Smith, M. L., Spector, S. and Tordoff, A. (2004) Key biodiversity areas as site conservation targets. BioScience 54: 1110–1118.
Langhammer, P. F., Bakarr, M. I., Bennun, L. A., Brooks, T. M., Clay, R. P., Darwall, W., De Silva, N., Edgar, G. J., Eken, G., Fishpool, L. D. C., da Fonseca, G. A. B., Foster, M. N., Knox, D. H., Matiku, P., Radford, E. A., Rodrigues, A. S. L., Salaman, P., Sechrest, W. and Tordoff, A. W. (2007) Identification and gap analysis of key biodiversity areas: targets for comprehensive protected area systems. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN (Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series 15).
Linzey, A. V. (2002) Important Mammal Areas: A US pilot project. In: Society for Conservation Biology. 16th Annual Meeting: Programme and Abstracts. Canterbury, UK: Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology.
Plantlife International (2004) Identifying and Protecting the World’s Most Important Plant Areas: A Guide to Implementing Target 5 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. Salisbury, UK: Plantlife International.
van Swaay, C. A. M. and Warren, M. S. (2003) Prime Butterfly Areas in Europe: Priority Sites for Conservation. Wageningen, Netherlands: National Reference Center for Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries; Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries.

Compiled 2004, updated 2008

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2008) What are Key Biodiversity Areas?. Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from: . Checked: