Measuring the effectiveness of reserve networks is essential to ensure that conservation objectives such as species persistence are being met. We devised a new approach for measuring the effectiveness of land conservation in protecting rare and threatened species and applied it to an ecosystem of global significance. We compiled detailed global distributional data for 36 rare and threatened plants and animals found in the Lake Wales Ridge ecosystem in central Florida (U.S.A.). For each species, we developed a set of protection indices based in part on criteria used to categorize species for the World Conservation Union's Red List. We calculated protection indexes under three different conservation scenarios: a past scenario, which assumed recent, major land-acquisition efforts never occurred; a current scenario, which assumed no additional areas are saved beyond what is currently protected; and a targeted scenario, which assumed all of the remaining areas targeted for protection are eventually acquired. This approach enabled us to quantify the progress, in terms of reduced risk of extinction, that conservationists have made in protecting target species. It also revealed the limited success these land-acquisition efforts have had in reducing those extinction risks associated with loss of habitat or small geographic ranges. Many species of the Lake Wales Ridge will remain at high risk of extinction even if planned land-acquisition efforts are completely successful. By calculating protection indexes with and without each site for all imperiled species, we also quantified the contribution of each protected area to the conservation of each species, enabling local conservation decisions to be made in the context of a larger (global) perspective. The protection index approach can be adapted readily to other ecosystems with multiple rare and threatened species.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation
- Endangered species
- IUCN Red List
- Lake Wales Ridge (Florida)
- Protection index