Zonation identifies areas important for retaining habitat quality and connectivity for multiple species, indirectly aiming at species’ long-term persistence.


The ZONATION tool provides methods and software for ecologically based land use planning including decision support for spatial conservation resource allocation. Zonation is used to identify areas important for retaining habitat quality and connectivity for multiple species, habitats or ecosystems, indirectly aiming at long-term persistence of biodiversity.

Zonation software produces a balanced, complementarity-based, priority ranking based on the occurrence levels of biodiversity features. The ranking is generated by iteratively removing the least valuable remaining cell, accounting for connectivity and the balance between features in the process.  Costs can also be included into Zonation to produce cost-efficient solutions. 

The application of the Zonation tool can require several steps, including pre and post-processing of data in addition to using the Zonation software.



Input data for Zonation can come from observation or modelling, including species distribution modelling. Input data needs to be processed into a grid, with the number inside each grid cell telling the local occurrence level of the feature.  The setup and interative analysis on Zonation require the creation of several files (project run file, settings file, features file, and input rasters). 

Zonation is able to balance a large number of different factors in spatial conservation prioritization. It includes feature-specific connectivity responses, costs, uncertainty analysis, and several unique analysis options. It can analyse very large data sets in manageable time. The analysis is deterministic and its main results can be summarized in a map and a graph.  The setup requirements and analysis options are outlined in the "Running a Zonation Planning Project" document.

Additional processing of Zonation outputs can be undertaken for additional visualisation and data analysis (GIS and statistical software), Zonation v4 can process data sets that are quite large, both in terms of effective landscape size and count of features.

The operation of Zv4 is explained in a quick-start guide, a comprehensive manual, and in web-based material. Zv4 does not operate on vector data - only grid data, it does not do statistical
species distribution modelling, and it is not a stochastic population model. Maximum landscape size handled by Zonation is in the hundreds of millions of grid cells and count of features in the tens of thousands (conditional on RAM memory availability).

Latest Version V 4.0
State of Development Released and updated

Development Contact

University of Helsinki


Outcome Areas Environmental
Management Domains Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services
Intended End Users
  • Researcher
  • Regional Council Scientist
Steady State or Dynamic Unknown

Input & Output Data


Open/Closed Source Closed Source
Licence Type No Licence

User Information

Operating Systems MS Windows
User Interface Graphical desktop
Ease of Use Moderate
Use in Policy Process Review (Issue Identification), Check (Policy Evaluation)

See Zonation Website - For Manuals and software download

Technical Considerations

Keywords biodiversity, prioritisation,
Linkages to other Models

Zonation - Software, manuals, presentations, examples - University of Helsinki

You Tube Videos:

- Zonation - basic run of a tutorial example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8WIUsY3KqU

- Land Use Planning and Spatial Conservation Prioritization Using Spatial Data and Zonation Software https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2_M01F4rK0

- Conservation Prioritization - Zonation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wW-dNThvh8&list=PLSm4rjXsJ4aMyQ37JpD5Ksp4bXKYiWg-y

Key References

Zonation leaflet - contains a list of key references

Moilanen, A., Leathwick, J. and Quinn, J.  (2011): Spatial prioritization of conservation management. Volume4, Issue5, Pages 383-393.

Leathwick, J., et. al. (2008): Novel methods for the design and evaluation of marine protected areas in offshore waters.  Conservation Letters 1: 91-102.

Moilanen, A., Wilson, K.A. and Hugh Possingham, H. (2009): Spatial Conservation Prioritization - Quantitative Methods and Computational Tools. Oxford University Press. 

Associated Case Studies

Zonation - Waikato Biodiversity Ranking

The project builds on earlier works for biodiversity ranking of similar nature but differs in several respects, with the goal of a higher level view of understanding indigenous biodiversity within the region.


Other Key Case Studies

Significant natural areas of the Waikato region: streams and rivers.  Collier, et. al. (2010): WRC Technical report TR 2010/19

Exploration of the use of reserve planning software to identify potential Marine Protected Areas in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone.  Leathwick, J., et. al. (2006): NIWA Client Report: HAM2006-064,  Report for Department of Conservation