Multi-taxa spatial conservation planning reveals similar priorities between taxa and improved protected area representation with climate change

Rob Critchlow, Charles Cunningham, Humphrey Crick, Nicholas Macgregor, Michael Morecroft, James Pearce-Higgins, Tom Oliver, Matthew John Carroll, Colin Michael Beale

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Protected area (PA) networks have in the past been constructed to include all major habitats, but have often been developed through consideration of only a few indicator taxa or across restricted areas, and rarely account for global climate change. Systematic conservation planning (SCP) aims to improve the efficiency of biodiversity conservation, particularly when addressing internationally agreed protection targets. We apply SCP in Great Britain (GB) using the widest taxonomic coverage to date (4,447 species), compare spatial prioritisation results across 18 taxa and use projected future (2080) distributions to assess the potential impact of climate change on PA network effectiveness. Priority conservation areas were similar among multiple taxa, despite considerable differences in spatial species richness patterns; thus systematic prioritisations based on indicator taxa for which data are widely available are still useful for conservation planning. We found that increasing the number of protected hectads by 2% (to reach the 2020 17% Aichi target) could have a disproportionate positive effect on species protected, with an increase of up to 17% for some taxa. The PA network in GB currently under-represents priority species but, if the potential future distributions under climate change are realised, the proportion of species distributions protected by the current PA network may increase, because many PAs are in northern and higher altitude areas. Optimal locations for new PAs are particularly concentrated in southern and upland areas of GB. This application of SCP shows how a small addition to an existing PA network could have disproportionate benefits for species conservation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)683-702
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number2
Early online date11 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

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©2022, The Author(s).

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