Improving systematic conservation planning to account for species traits

By Emilia Decker

Systematic conservation planning can effectively guide decisions about location, configuration and management of conservation areas. It has become a standard approach for preserving ecosystems, but still has gaps that need to be overcome.

Species traits, like their position in a food web, are not yet included in systematic conservation planning, though interaction of species are an important part in an ecosystem.

MARXAN is a conservation planning software that is used in order to identify areas with the highest conservation priority. We describe a new way to include species traits like trophic information into MARXAN. We found that prioritizing actions to account for species traits can be done without increasing the cost of the conservation plan.

We looked at fish data and distribution in the Danube basin and divided species into two groups (prey and predator) according to their trophic information. After including this in MARXAN we examined whether and what changed in areas suggested to be preserved.

Incorporating information changed the distribution of areas prioritized for protection, but not the overall amount of areas. We achieved this by identifying areas where species lower in the food web have less pressures from predators while at the same time representing a more diverse species pool.

Figure 1
Difference in prioritized areas when trophic information is included. Figure from

Because our approach is generally applicable, irrespective of realm, geographical area, and species composition, it has the potential to be used by researchers for a more adequate conservation plan paving the way for more realistic and ecological meaningful solutions in conservation issues.

This work appeared in Ecology and Evolution.



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