Determining Conservation Priorities: Species and Places vs. Economic Efficiency

Effective Conservation Requires Clear Objectives and Prioritizing Actions, Not Places or Species
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (August 11, 2015, v112 n32; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1509189112) by Christopher J. Brown, et al.

In their recent article, Jenkins et al. (1) identify “priorities for future conservation investment” in the continental United States. To find these priority areas, the authors weighted species from six taxa by their range size and level of protection, summing the weighted maps to derive maps of priority scores. Such scoring systems defy contemporary planning approaches, and have repeatedly been shown to identify priorities that are biologically ineffective and economically inefficient (2).

Three decades of evolution in the theory and practice of conservation planning has led to four critical lessons. First, priority setting requires explicit and defensible objectives (2); for example, minimizing the cost of acquiring land to protect a minimum proportion of each species’ range. The locations highlighted by Jenkins et al. (1) simply contain the largest number of relatively unprotected and restricted-range species, and it is unclear whether protecting these locations would achieve any particular objective…

Reply to Brown et al.: Species and Places are the Priorities for Conservation, Not Economic Efficiency
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (August 11, 2015, v112 n32; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1511375112) by Clinton N. Jenkins, et al.

Brown et al. (1) outline an approach to biodiversity conservation that will not protect it. The “most species for the buck” strategy is mathematically elegant. It may sometimes achieve progress. More often, it confuses the biological priorities for conservation with the obstacles we must overcome to protect them. Many existing protected areas in the United States were so designated because they were inexpensive, expedient, or had impressive scenery, and not because of their biological
importance (2). Brown et al. (1) formalize a mindset that produced a system of protected areas with nearly the opposite pattern of biodiversity priorities. We aim to reverse that. We initiate a process for prioritization based on species needing greater protection, a basic and fundamental tenet of conservation. Our metrics are determined from biodiversity priorities…


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