Do biodiversity hotspots adequately represent threatened species? A case study from Australia

Anna Pintor


Abstract— In light of the cumulative impacts of anthropogenic climate change and other threatening processes on the world’s biodiversity, adequate protected area selection is paramount to maximize the benefit of often limited resources. Protected areas are frequently selected to represent a high proportion of biodiversity. However, areas of threatened species richness do not necessarily coincide with areas of high biodiversity. Additionally, protected areas often represent residual habitat, rather than habitat in need of protection from specific threats. Here, we use Northern Australia – a region that has been suggested for substantial future development – as a case study to assess discrepancies between biodiversity hotspots and areas of high threatened species richness, by modelling the distribution of all ~1400 terrestrial and freshwater plant and animal species of conservation concern within the region. We combine threatened species hotspots with spatial representations of several threatening processes to identify key areas where (i) threatened species are not accurately represented by biodiversity in general, (ii) large benefits to threatened species protection can be gained from including targeted additional areas into the existing protected area network, and (iii) key threatening processes could easily be abated by excluding or reducing certain human activities. The novel, systematic, large scale approach used in this study can optimize investment of limited conservation resources and provide more robust tools for protected area selection in a world of under-surveyed and shifting threatened species distributions.

Keywords— threatened species, climate change, protected areas, biodiversity, threatening processes.


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