Comparing Approaches to Identify Protected Areas for Wildlife across the U.S.

Posted 08/23/23

There are over 1300 threatened or endangered species in the US, and the number of species going extinct is increasing. Not only is the loss of species tragic, but it can have widespread societal implications. We depend upon plants and animals for food, medicine, and numerous other services. In the SILVIS Lab, we are comparing different approaches to identify essential conservation areas with higher certainty to protect endangered species.

By schlorian 13 May 2019

Species and populations are declining rapidly, with over 3 billion birds lost in the past 50 years. Astoundingly, the US is on track to lose 50% of its remaining individual birds in 50 more years without intervention ( Birds, unfortunately, are not alone, as 40% of all species are projected to face extinction by the end of this century. Despite these alarming numbers, conservation spending in the US has remained relatively stable over the past years – roughly $6-7 billion with few exceptions. Therefore, one of the most challenging questions for scientists is where will conservation action – and protected areas in particular – do the most to protect species of conservation concern.

Kathleen Carroll’s current work in the SILVIS Lab compares various biodiversity metrics, each with unique assumptions, to my previous maps of threatened/endangered and decreasing species (see my previous webstory for more on that project). I can use these comparisons to evaluate how well these additional metrics, which are usually treated as direct surrogates for biodiversity, capture the conservation patterns necessary to protect threatened or endangered species. I also will evaluate which, if any, combinations of these metrics work best to inform conservation planning on regional and national scales. To do this, I will model all metrics for the US and then compare them directly to my threatened/endangered species data. I will do so using Marxan, a conservation planning problem support tool, to create nationwide maps that identify conservation priority areas. These maps, one for each metric, will include a certainty estimate based on pixel importance across data layers and identify gaps in protected areas. By comparing different metrics, we will be provided maps of high-certainty high-priority areas where land managers and agencies can focus on endangered species conservatio through designation of new protected areas.


Story by Carroll, Kathleen