At its simplest, a gap analysis is an assesment of the extent to which a protected area system meets protection goals set by a nation or region to represent its biological diversity. Gap analyses can vary from simple exercises based on a spatial comparison of biodiversity with existing protected areas to complex studies that need detailed data gathering and analysis, mapping and use of software decision packages. All gap analyses should consider a range of different “gaps” in a protected area network:
- Representation gaps: either (1) no representations of a particular species or ecosystem in any protected area, or (2) not enough examples of the species/ecosystem represented to ensure long-term protection.
- Ecological gaps: while the species/ecosystem occurs in the protected area system, occurrence is either of inadequate ecological condition, or the protected area(s) fail to address species'' movements or specific ecological conditions needed for long-term survival or ecosystem functioning.
- Management gaps: protected areas exist but management regimes (management objectives, governance types, or management effectiveness) do not provide full security for particular species or ecosystems given local conditions.