The Effectiveness of Surrogate Taxa for the Representation of Biodiversity



A. S. Lewandowski; R. F. Noss;D. R. Parsons


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Abbreviated Journal Title

Conserv. Biol.


biodiversity surrogate; complementarity; hotspots; site selection; spatial prioritization; species richness; surrogate taxa; IDENTIFYING PRIORITY AREAS; PLANT-SPECIES RICHNESS; INDICATOR GROUPS; TERRESTRIAL VERTEBRATES; ENVIRONMENTAL DIVERSITY; CONSERVATION TARGETS; RESERVE SELECTION; GAP ANALYSIS; HOTSPOTS; COMPLEMENTARITY; Biodiversity Conservation; Ecology; Environmental Sciences


Biodiversity is too complex to measure directly, so conservation planning must rely on surrogates to estimate the biodiversity of sites. The species richness of selected taxa is often used as a surrogate for the richness of other taxa. Surrogacy values of taxa have been evaluated in diverse contexts, yet broad trends in their effectiveness remain unclear. We reviewed published studies testing the ability of species richness of surrogate taxa to capture the richness of other (target) taxa. We stratified studies into two groups based on whether a complementarity approach (surrogates used to select a combination of sites that together maximize total species richness for the taxon) or a richness-hotspot approach (surrogates used to select sites containing the highest species richness for the taxon) was used. For each comparison of one surrogate taxon with one target, we used the following predictor variables: biome, spatial extent of study area, surrogate taxon, and target taxon. We developed a binary response variable based on whether the surrogate taxon provided better than random representation of the target taxon. For studies that used an evaluation approach that was not based on better than random representation of target taxa, we based the response variable on the interpretation of results in the original study. We performed a categorical regression to elucidate trends in the effectiveness of surrogate taxa with regard to each of the predictor variables. A surrogate was 25% more likely to be effective with a complementarity approach than with a hotspot approach. For hotspot-based approaches, biome, extent of study, surrogate taxon, and target taxon significantly influenced effectiveness of the surrogate. For complementarity-based approaches, biome, extent, and surrogate taxon significantly influenced effectiveness of the surrogate. For all surrogate evaluations, biome explained the greatest amount of variation in surrogate effectiveness. From most to least, extent, surrogate taxon, and target taxon explained the most variation after biome. Surrogate taxa were most effective in grasslands and in some cases boreal zones, deserts, and tropical forests; surrogate taxa also were more effective in studies examining larger areas. Herpetofauna were the most effective taxon as both surrogate and target when a richness-hotspot approach was used; however, herpetofauna were analyzed in fewer studies, so this result is tentative. For complementarity approaches, taxa that are easy to measure and tend to have a large number of habitat specialists distributed collectively across broad environmental gradients (e.g., plants, birds, and mammals) were the most effective surrogates.

Journal Title

Conservation Biology





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