The study, led by Georgia State University Associate Professor Paul Ferraro, looked at the long term impact of economically depressed people living near parks and reserves established in 1985 or earlier in Costa Rica and Thailand.
"The results are surprising," Ferraro said. "Most people might expect that if you restrict resources, people on average will be worse off."
Ferraro's team speculates the conservation of biodiverse areas might have helped the poor because of tourism and infrastructure, such as new roadways, which may have provided new economic opportunities.
While Costa Rica and Thailand are not representative of all developing nations, Ferraro said the study's findings are promising. He said the study can be replicated elsewhere in the world to look at the impact of efforts to protect the environment and reduce poverty -- two of the United Nations Millennium Development goals.
The research that included Kwaw Andam of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Katharine Sims of Amherst College, Margaret Holland of the University of Wisconsin and Andrew Healy of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.