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Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Mar 7;267(1442):505-13.

Complementarity as a biodiversity indicator strategy.

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  • 1Conservation Planning Unit, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, South Africa.


Richness, rarity, endemism and complementarity of indicator taxon species are often used to select conservation areas, which are then assumed to represent most regional biodiversity. Assessments of the degree to which these indicator conservation areas coincide across different taxa have been conducted on a variety of vertebrate, invertebrate and plant groups at a national scale in Britain, Canada, USA and South Africa and at a regional scale in Cameroon, Uganda and the USA. A low degree of spatial overlap among and within these selected indicator conservation areas has been demonstrated. These results tend to suggest that indicator conservation areas display little congruence across different taxa. However, some of these studies demonstrate that many conservation areas for indicator taxa capture a high proportion of non-target species. Thus it appears that indicator conservation areas might sample overall biodiversity efficiently. These indicator conservation areas may, however, exclude species essential for effective conservation, e.g. rare, endemic or endangered species. The present study investigated the value of indicator taxa as biodiversity surrogates using spatial congruence and representativeness of different indicator priority conservation areas. The conservation status of species excluded by the indicator approaches is also assessed. Indicator priority conservation areas demonstrate high land area requirements in order to fully represent non-target species. These results suggest that efficient priority area selection techniques must reach a compromise between maximizing non-target species gains and minimizing land-use requirements. Reserve selection procedures using indicator-based complementarity appear to be approaches which best satisfy this trade-off.

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