Identifying conservation areas on the basis of alternative distribution data sets

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Underwood, Jared G., D'agrosa, Caterina, and Gerber, Leah R.
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Distribution data on biodiversity features is a major component of conservation planning that are often inaccurate; thus, the true distribution of each feature is commonly over- or underrepresented. The selection of distribution data sets may therefore lead to variability in the spatial configuration and size of proposed reserve networks and uncertainty regarding the extent to which these networks actually contain the biodiversity features they were identified to protect. Our goals were to investigate the impact on reserve selection of choosing different distribution data sets and to propose novel methods to minimize uncertainty about target attainment within reserves. To do so, we used common prioritization methods (richness mapping, systematic reserve design, and a novel approach that integrates multiple types of distribution data) and three types of data on the distribution of mammals (predicted distribution models, occurrence records, and a novel combination of the two) to simulate the establishment of regional biodiversity reserves for the state of Arizona (U.S.A.). Using the results of these simulations, we explored variability in reserve placement and size as a function of the distribution data set. Spatial overlap of reserve networks identified with only predicted distribution data or only occurrence distribution data never exceeded 16%. In pairwise comparisons between reserves created with all three types of distribution data, overlap never achieved 50%. The reserve size required to meet conservation targets also varied with the type of distribution data used and the conservation goal; the largest reserve system was 10 times the smallest. Our results highlight the impact of employing different types of distribution data and identify novel tools for application to existing distribution data sets that can minimize uncertainty about target attainment.


Underwood, J. G., C. D’agrosa, and L. R. Gerber. 2010. Identifying conservation areas on the basis of alternative distribution data sets. Conservation Biology 24:162–170.