An integrative synthesis to global amphibian conservation priorities

New publication (PDF here*) in collaboration with Sky Button from Washington State University published in Global Change Biology: An integrative synthesis to global amphibian conservation priorities.

Human activities are driving many species to the brink of extinction, and the current distribution of protected areas only weakly alleviates pressure on threatened species. This discrepancy reflects the presence of protected areas on lands available instead of the ecological, evolutionary, or conservation values of species present. Habitat loss consequently continues to impact threatened species, as illustrated by geographic patterns of biodiversity loss for amphibians.

Given the need to better align the boundaries of protected areas with at-risk biodiversity, we assessed the importance of various factors for identifying global and biome-level conservation priority areas, specifically for amphibians. We identified, mapped, and ranked areas of critical conservation importance for all amphibian species on earth using a new integrative tool that scores the urgency of conserving each species and location based on a combination of species characteristics and ecoregion-level human impacts. Our integrative approach is novel in that it accounts for likely threats to Data Deficient species, considers the irreplaceability of unique species that are phylogenetically isolated, and addresses the localized conservation implications of species endemicity and projected future human impacts to an ecoregion.

For comparison, we also mapped and ranked amphibian biodiversity using species richness and an Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) score proxy. Our integrative approach predicted key regions for amphibian conservation that were not apparent when using a simple species richness or EDGE score proxy-based approach.

Relative conservation priority scores for amphibians using species richness (a), EDGE score proxy
(b), and the integrative approach (c). We calculated priority scores for each approach by summing the scores (or number) of species overlapping each grid cell. The spatial distribution of high-scoring pixels differed considerably among the three approaches, with the integrative and EDGE score proxy approaches suggesting higher conservation priorities in the Paleotropics than the species richness approach

Furthermore, by scaling conservation priority scores relative to biome, we identified several temperate and xeric regions of crucial yet overlooked conservation importance for amphibians. Until global amphibian diversity is thoroughly catalogued, we recommend using our integrative scoring approach to set geographic priorities for amphibian habitat protection, while acknowledging that this approach may be complemented by others (e.g., EDGE scores). Our study provides an avenue for avoiding common pitfalls of more simplistic species richness-based approaches for conservation planning, and can be used to improve the future design of protected areas.

Conservation priority scores for each pixel relative to other pixels within the same biome, for the species richness (a), EDGE score proxy (b), and integrative scoring approach (c). We calculated global-scale priority scores for each approach by summing the scores (or number) of species overlapping each grid cell. We scaled these scores to biome level by dividing the score of each pixel by the score of the highest-scoring pixel within the same biome. Our biome-scale adjustments highlight several key areas for conserving temperate and xeric-adapted amphibians, which are not visually apparent in our global-scale maps.

This new approach is a game changer for amphibian conservation in northeast Asia, as it highlight areas that are usually ignored from conservation priotities.

Details of conservation priorities for amphibians in northeast Asia.

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