How to identify conservation priorities – let’s move beyond richness maps

‘Priority maps’ are popular products of conservation research, much like threat maps (See our related paper on when and how threat maps should be used HERE). They are produced using a variety of methods, one  of which is to use species richness to make ‘hotspot maps’ – variously using total species richness, richness of rare or endemic species, or richness of rare, threatened and endemic species with low protection (e.g. Jenkins et al. 2015 PNAS). Such approaches were popularised by the seminal Myers paper published in Nature in 2000. However, they are now outdated as tools for selecting priority areas for conservation actions, and ignore decades of research on conservation planning.

In a letter to PNAS we explain why hotspots maps of species are not maps of conservation priorities. In fact, calling a map of species richness a map of priorities has been called one of the six common mistakes in conservation planning. Our letter was a reponse to Jenkins et al. 2015, and has created some controversy.

The Jenkins et al. paper purports to set conservation priorities for US protected lands – but simply shows a map of where more species occur, and is a classic example of why ‘hotspot’ approaches are dangerous. Lead author Chris Brown explains why step by step, and how to do it better HERE. Previous analysis, by other authors did consider constraints, and identified quite different priorities for protection in the US.

Megan Barnes @ultimatemegs

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