Saturday, April 19, 2008

Conservation biogeography forum -- Fostering the dialogue between conservation practitioners and biogeographers

Antje Ahrends
York Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Dynamics, University of York

Be it a local assessment of the distribution of a threatened population, or a study on global diversity patterns - biogeography has an important role to play in conservation planning at all spatial scales. Biogeographic information underpins prominent schemes that channel major resources to target areas, such as Conservation International’s biodiversity hotspots (Meyers et al., 2000), the WWF Global 200 (Olson and Dinerstein, 1998), or BirdLife International’s Endemic Bird Areas (Stattersfield et al., 1998). Biogeography can be key for developing and evaluating strategies to prevent species extinction in the face of global environmental change, monitoring the impact of invasive species, or assessing the effectiveness of the existing protected area network – to name just a few examples. Prominent worldwide assessments of the status and trends in biodiversity, such as the Biodiversity module of the UNEP Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) and the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), are underpinned by information on the distribution of species. Biogeographic information thus feeds into the development of legal frameworks, policies and strategies, guides resource allocations, and is used to raise awareness amongst decision makers and the public.
Highlighting the central role of biogeography for conservation guidance, Whittaker et al. (2005) make a case for a greater engagement of biogeographers in the evaluation and refinement of prominent conservation schemes, such as biodiversity hotspots and Global 200; particularly as such schemes are sensitive to data, methodological and theoretical inadequacies. The authors also stress that alternative scenarios are needed, as these schemes only use a limited numbers of indicator taxa that reflect the interests, values and resources (both technically and data bound) of the NGOs that originated them.
Do conservation practitioners share this view? Do they read biogeographic journals? Are prominent conservation schemes flexible enough to incorporate new biogeographic insights, or indeed uncertainty? Is the rapid emergence of new methods and paradigms, driven by the need to be novel and ‘the first’, difficult to accommodate in the conservation world where implementing strategies and generating public support are lengthy processes that require long-term commitment of effort and resources? How do biogeographers view their role in supporting these processes? Do they feel that biogeography has a responsibility to contribute to conservation planning, or should research be entirely free of political agendas? Do they regularly look for updates on the happenings in the conservation world, and are they aware of the mechanisms and organisations that have been created to facilitate the contribution of biogeographic information to conservation planning? Do conservation practitioners and biogeographers communicate enough? Is information communicated in an appropriate way, or what information is required and in what format? Are both sides interested in an intensified exchange and what are the potential platforms for this?
We are proposing to shed light on these and other questions in an interview-style dialogue between conservation practitioners and biogeographers presented either on the IBS blog or in forthcoming issues of the IBS newsletter. From the former camp, we are hoping to be able to talk to people with backgrounds ranging from conservation science and international conservation strategy development to practical implementation in the field. As such we are proposing to seek the views of representatives of schemes such as biodiversity hotspots and Global 200, the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Climate Change Initiative or the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre Ecosystem Assessment Programme (UNEP-WCMC) and conservation project and protected area managers in the field. We would greatly appreciate if researchers, in particular in the fields of predictive distribution modelling, species and genetic diversity, invasive species and climate change would agree to participate in an interview.
We hope that this will be a fruitful dialogue for both sides. Please help us to make this contribution as useful to you as we can - your views, suggestions and contributions are most welcome.

Myers, N.; Mittermeier, R.A. Mittermeier, C.G., Da Fonseca. G.A.B. & Kent, J. (2000). Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403: 853-858.
Olson, D.M. & Dinerstein, E. (1998). The Global 200: a representation approach to conserving the earth’s most biologically valuable ecoregions. Conservation Biology 12: 505-515.
Stattersfield, A.J., Crosby, M.J., Long, A.J. & Wege, D.C. (1998). Endemic Bird Areas of the World: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. BirdLife Conservation Series No.7. Cambridge.
Whittaker, R.J., Araujo, M.B., Jepson, P., Ladle, R.J., Watson, J.E.M. & Willis, K.J. (2005). Conservation Biogeography: assessment and prospect. Diversity and Distributions 11: 3-23.

Editor’s note: This is the opening text for a section build of short interviews to both biogeographers and conservation stakeholders about the role of biogoegraphy in conservation. We intend this section to be a n open forum to communicate between these two groups, so we will be happy to receive offers of participation and/or suggestions for potential interviewees. Please contact either Antje Ahrends (aa528(at) or the IBS editor (ibs(at)

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