A review of selection-based tests of abiotic surrogates for species representation

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Beier, Paul, Patricia Sutcliffe, Jan Hjort, Daniel P. Faith, Robert L. Pressey, and Fabio Albuquerque
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Because conservation planners typically lack data on where species occur, environmental surrogates—including geophysical settings and climate types—have been used to prioritize sites within a planning area. We reviewed 622 evaluations of the effectiveness of abiotic surrogates in representing species in 19 study areas. Sites selected using abiotic surrogates represented more species than an equal number of randomly selected sites in 43% of tests (55% for plants) and on average improved on random selection of sites by about 8% (21% for plants). Environmental diversity (ED) (42% median improvement on random selection) and biotically informed clusters showed promising results and merit additional testing. We suggest 4 ways to improve performance of abiotic surrogates. First, analysts should consider a broad spectrum of candidate variables to define surrogates, including rarely used variables related to geographic separation, distance from coast, hydrology, and within-site abiotic diversity. Second, abiotic surrogates should be defined at fine thematic resolution. Third, sites (the landscape units prioritized within a planning area) should be small enough to ensure that surrogates reflect species’ environments and to produce prioritizations that match the spatial resolution of conservation decisions. Fourth, if species inventories are available for some planning units, planners should define surrogates based on the abiotic variables that most influence species turnover in the planning area. Although species inventories increase the cost of using abiotic surrogates, a modest number of inventories could provide the data needed to select variables and evaluate surrogates. Additional tests of nonclimate abiotic surrogates are needed to evaluate the utility of conserving nature's stage as a strategy for conservation planning in the face of climate change.


Beier, Paul, Patricia Sutcliffe, Jan Hjort, Daniel P. Faith, Robert L. Pressey, and Fabio Albuquerque. 2015. “A Review of Selection-Based Tests of Abiotic Surrogates for Species Representation.” Conservation Biology 29 (3): 668–79. doi:10.1111/cobi.12509.