Environmental diversity as a surrogate for species representation

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Beier, Paul, and Fábio Suzart de Albuquerque
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Because many species have not been described and most species ranges have not been mapped, conservation planners often use surrogates for conservation planning, but evidence for surrogate effectiveness is weak. Surrogates are well-mapped features such as soil types, landforms, occurrences of an easily observed taxon (discrete surrogates), and well-mapped environmental conditions (continuous surrogate). In the context of reserve selection, the idea is that a set of sites selected to span diversity in the surrogate will efficiently represent most species. Environmental diversity (ED) is a rarely used surrogate that selects sites to efficiently span multivariate ordination space. Because it selects across continuous environmental space, ED should perform better than discrete surrogates (which necessarily ignore within-bin and between-bin heterogeneity). Despite this theoretical advantage, ED appears to have performed poorly in previous tests of its ability to identify 50 × 50 km cells that represented vertebrates in Western Europe. Using an improved implementation of ED, we retested ED on Western European birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and combined terrestrial vertebrates. We also tested ED on data sets for plants of Zimbabwe, birds of Spain, and birds of Arizona (United States). Sites selected using ED represented European mammals no better than randomly selected cells, but they represented species in the other 7 data sets with 20% to 84% effectiveness. This far exceeds the performance in previous tests of ED, and exceeds the performance of most discrete surrogates. We believe ED performed poorly in previous tests because those tests considered only a few candidate explanatory variables and used suboptimal forms of ED's selection algorithm. We suggest future work on ED focus on analyses at finer grain sizes more relevant to conservation decisions, explore the effect of selecting the explanatory variables most associated with species turnover, and investigate whether nonclimate abiotic variables can provide useful surrogates in an ED framework.


Beier, Paul, and Fábio Suzart de Albuquerque. 2015. “Environmental Diversity as a Surrogate for Species Representation.” Conservation Biology, April. doi:10.1111/cobi.12495.