Restore Default

Beating Species Extinction

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As wildlife spectaculars go, it doesn’t get much better than Madagascar, and if scientists have their way, many of the island’s most biologically rich areas will soon be protected. That’s because a mammoth effort to collect data on the island’s wildlife has yielded one of the world’s most detailed conservation proposals to date.

A consortium of 22 international researchers led by Claire Kremen, professor of environmental science, policy, and management, conducted a survey of 2,315 species to identify which areas the government of Madagascar should protect in order to conserve as many plants and animals as possible. Madagascar has already committed to protecting 10 percent of its land by 2012. The new analysis will help them identify the most species-diverse areas.

“Conservation planning has historically focused on protecting one species or one group of species at a time,” says Kremen. This may help the charismatic species, but the “behind-the-scenes” species that are essential to ecosystem function are often neglected. “In our race to beat species extinction, the old approach is not going to be quick enough,” she says.

The proposed strategy would extend the same protection to creepy crawlies as it would to large and cuddly mammals such as the island’s famous lemurs, which are not seen in the wild anywhere else on Earth. Kremen and her colleagues collected information on the exact location of over 2,300 species of plants, insects, frogs, geckos and mammals. They then built a computer model to extrapolate the range of each species, and used a second model to identify which regions are most vital for saving the largest number of species, giving priority to the most endangered species.

Their survey yielded a detailed map of the most biologically valuable areas in Madagascar.

“Never before have biologists and policy makers had the tools that allow analysis of such a broad range of species, at such fine scale, over this large a geographic area,” says Kremen. “Our analysis raises the bar on what’s possible in conservation planning.”

-Catherine Brahic
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