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Quest for adequate biodiversity surrogates in a time of urgency

  1. Félix Foresta,1
  1. aRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3DS, United Kingdom

Earth’s biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, in what some have dubbed the “sixth mass extinction” that life has faced in the history of our planet (1). This rapid decline of biodiversity, the realization that some of its components, such as fungi, remain relatively poorly known, and limited resources are rendering the process of prioritizing conservation efforts more challenging. The expression “agony of choice,” put forward by Vane-Wright et al. (2) to describe the context in which these decisions have to be made, has become even more pertinent. In this time of urgency and scarce resources, conservation practitioners have been seeking methods and indices that can accelerate the selection of species and areas, which are to be the focus of conservation actions. These approaches include the identification of surrogates, which can either mirror the distribution patterns of other features that are less readily accessible, but potentially more informative or relevant in a particular context, or more easily represent biodiversity as a whole. Surrogates are expected to save time and resources compared with more conventional methods and have attracted increasing interest among conservation planners. These surrogates are generally of two broad types, taxonomic and environmental (3). Taxonomic surrogates are using a particular group of organisms and extrapolate the patterns observed in this group as representing overall biodiversity (e.g., ref. 4). Environmental surrogates usually comprise an amalgam of physical and biological information, such as ecological classifications (e.g., ref. 5), which have been widely employed in conservation planning as they are assumed to represent adequately groups of species, communities, and ecosystems.

Selecting species or identifying areas harboring the greatest amount of diversity to be prioritized for conservation is an important element of conservation planning. Equally important is ensuring that the overall variability within a given species is also adequately protected. One typical …

?1Email: f.forest{at}kew.org.

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