Globally, the number and extent of terrestrial protected areas (PAs) are expanding rapidly. Nonetheless, their impacts on preventing forest loss and the factors influencing the impacts are not well understood, despite the critical roles of forests in biodiversity conservation, provision of ecosystem services, and achievement of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. To address this important knowledge gap, we quantified the impacts of 54,792 PAs worldwide on preventing forest loss from 2000 to 2015, and assessed important landscape and management factors affecting the impacts of PAs. Although the majority (71.4%) of the PAs contributed to preventing forest loss, only 30.5% of forest loss in the PAs have been prevented. PAs with higher rates of forest loss in their surrounding regions, located at lower elevations, within a few hours of travel from the nearest city, with higher agricultural productivity, and permission for fewer human uses were better able to prevent forest loss. Impacts on preventing forest loss were similar regardless of whether the PAs were privately or publicly owned. Our findings highlight the potential benefits of strict protections, involving private entities in the establishment of PAs, and situating PAs in areas exposed to high risks of forest loss to enhance the capacity to combat global forest loss.

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