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Habitat Suitability Models and the Shortfall in Conservation Planning for African Vertebrates

Carlo Rondinini, Simon Stuart and Luigi Boitani
Conservation Biology
Vol. 19, No. 5 (Oct., 2005), pp. 1488-1497
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3591117
Page Count: 10
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Habitat Suitability Models and the Shortfall in Conservation Planning for African Vertebrates
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Abstract

Ongoing loss of biodiversity requires identifying large-scale conservation priorities, but the detailed information on the distribution of species required for this purpose is often missing. We present a systematic reserve selection for 1223 African mammals and amphibians in which habitat suitability models are used as estimates of the area occupied by species. In the framework of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Global Amphibian Assessment and IUCN Global Mammal Assessment, we collected the geographic range (extent of occurrence) and habitat preferences for each species. We used the latter to build species-specific habitat suitability models inside geographic ranges, and for 181 species we verified the models by comparing suitability levels to presence-absence data collected in the field. We then used the suitable areas as estimators of the area of occupancy and compared the results of systematic reserve selection based on geographic ranges to those based on estimated areas of occupancy. Our results showed that the reserve system would need a 30-100% expansion to achieve minimal conservation targets, concentrated in the tropics, where species richness reaches a maximum. Comparative analyses revealed that using geographic ranges, which overestimate the area occupied by species, underestimates the total amount of area that needs to be conserved. The area selected for conservation doubled when we used the estimated area of occupancy in place of the geographic ranges. This happened because the suitable areas potentially occupied by each species overlapped less than their geographic ranges. As a result, any given protected area contained fewer species than predicted by the analysis of ranges. Because species are more specialized than our estimates of distribution based on extent of occurrence suggest, we propose that this is a general effect in systematic conservation planning.

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