Spatial conservation priorities are highly sensitive to choice of biodiversity surrogates and species distribution model type

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Lentini, Pia E., and Brendan A. Wintle
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Pressure to conserve biodiversity with limited resources has led to increasing use of species distribution models (SDMs) for spatial conservation prioritization. Published spatial prioritization exercises often focus on well-studied groups, with data compiled from on-line databases of ad-hoc collections. Conservation plans generally aim to protect all components of biodiversity, and it is implied that the species used in prioritization act as surrogates. Here, we assess the sensitivity of spatial priorities to model and surrogate choice using a case study from a fragmented agricultural area of south eastern Australia that is poorly represented in the national reserve system. We model the distributions of 30 species of bird, microbat and bee using two types of SDM; generalised linear models based on systematic surveys that yield presence and absence observations, and MaxEnt models based on biodiversity database records. Eight prioritization scenarios were tested using Zonation software, and were based on either the presence–background or presence–absence SDMs and combinations of surrogacy among the three taxa. We found low correlations between SDMs generated for the same species using different modelling frameworks (μ = 0.18, n = 26). Area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) estimates generated by MaxEnt were optimistic; on average 1.36 times higher than when tested against the systematic survey data. Conservation priorities were sensitive to the choice of surrogate and type of data used to fit SDMs, and though bats and birds formed moderately good surrogates for each other, there was less compelling evidence of surrogacy for bees. Because valid surrogacy is unlikely with most existing data sets, investment in high quality data for less-surveyed groups prior to planning should still be a priority. If this is not possible, then it is advisable to analyse the sensitivity of conservation plans to the assumed surrogacy and quality of data available.


Lentini, Pia E., and Brendan A. Wintle. 2015. “Spatial Conservation Priorities Are Highly Sensitive to Choice of Biodiversity Surrogates and Species Distribution Model Type.” Ecography, April, 38: 1101–1111, doi:10.1111/ecog.01252.