Changes in land use are mainly a consequence of anthropogenic actions. The current agricultural and urban transformations in Costa Rica have raised questions about the effectiveness of conservation and restoration within protected areas. Herein we analyzed the patterns of land use change between three periods: 1997, 2005 and 2010 in terms of magnitude, direction, and pace through categorical maps generated by the photo-interpretation for La Cangreja National Park (LCNP), Rancho Mastatal Wildlife Refuge (RMWR), and their surrounding areas (SA), this last compound of one kilometer radius outside the protected areas’ boundaries. The matrix which describes the landscape within the protected areas is natural coverage, composed mainly by forest cover and thickets. We found that the most abundant natural cover for both protected areas was forest cover for all years tested. The stability and large areas of forest cover in LCNP and RMWR for 2005 and 2010, reflected that policies, management actions and vigilance, have a positive impact on the conservation and restoration of natural habitats in these Costa Rican Central Pacific areas. However, the high landscape complexity of the SA in 1997, 2005 and 2010 was an evidence of the anthropogenic pressure on these protected areas, and suggested the ineffectiveness of local governments to monitor and abate land use changes, that could hinder the management, conservation and restoration of species in the protected areas.

Keywords: Costa Rican national parks, habitat fragmentation, landscape ecology, land use change, La Cangreja National Park