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Increasing Taxonomic Diversity and Spatial Resolution Clarifies Opportunities for Protecting US Imperiled Species
Ecological Applications

Continental- and regional-scale assessments of gaps in protected area networks typically use relatively coarse range maps for well-documented species groups, creating uncertainty about the fate of unexamined biodiversity and providing insufficient guidance for land managers. By building habitat suitability models for a taxonomically diverse group of 2216 imperiled plants and animals, we revealed comprehensive and detailed protection opportunities in the conterminous United States. Summing protection-weighted range-size rarity (PWRSR, the product of the percent of modeled habitat outside of protected areas and the inverse of modeled habitat extent) uncovered novel patterns of biodiversity importance. Concentrations of unprotected imperiled species in places such as the northern Sierra Nevada, central and northern Arizona, the Rocky Mountains of Utah and Colorado, southeastern Texas, southwestern Arkansas, and Florida's Lake Wales Ridge have rarely if ever been featured in continental- and regional-scale analyses. The inclusion of diverse taxa (vertebrates, freshwater mussels, crayfishes, bumblebees, butterflies, skippers, and vascular plants) partially drove these new patterns. When analyses were restricted to groups typically included in previous studies (birds, mammals, and amphibians), up to 53% of imperiled species in other groups were left out. The finer resolution of modeled inputs (990 m) also resulted in a more geographically dispersed pattern. For example, 90% of the human population of the conterminous United States lives within 50 km of modeled habitat for one or more species with high PWRSR scores. Over one-half of the habitat for 818 species occurs within federally lands managed for biodiversity protection; an additional 360 species have over one-half of their modeled habitat on federal multiple-use land. Freshwater animals occur in places with poorer landscape conditions but with less exposure to climate change than other groups, suggesting that habitat restoration is an important conservation strategy for these species. The results provide fine-scale, taxonomically diverse inputs for local and regional priority-setting and show that although protection efforts are still widely needed on private lands, notable gains can be achieved by increasing protection status on selected federal lands.

Hamilton, Healy, Smyth, Regan L., Young, Bruce E., Howard, Timothy G., Tracey, Christopher, Breyer, Sean, Cameron, D. Richard, et al. 2022. “ Increasing Taxonomic Diversity and Spatial Resolution Clarifies Opportunities for Protecting US Imperiled Species.” Ecological Applications e2534.