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J Biosci. 2002 Jul;27(4 Suppl 2):299-308.

Operationalizing biodiversity for conservation planning.

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Biodiversity and Biocultural Conservation Laboratory, Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78701, USA.


Biodiversity has acquired such a general meaning that people now find it difficult to pin down a precise sense for planning and policy-making aimed at biodiversity conservation. Because biodiversity is rooted in place, the task of conserving biodiversity should target places for conservation action; and because all places contain biodiversity, but not all places can be targeted for action, places have to be prioritized. What is needed for this is a measure of the extent to which biodiversity varies from place to place. We do not need a precise measure of biodiversity to prioritize places. Relative estimates of similarity or difference can be derived using partial measures, or what have come to be called biodiversity surrogates. Biodiversity surrogates are supposed to stand in for general biodiversity in planning applications. We distinguish between true surrogates, those that might truly stand in for general biodiversity, and estimator surrogates, which have true surrogates as their target variable. For example, species richness has traditionally been the estimator surrogate for the true surrogate, species diversity. But species richness does not capture the differences in composition between places; the essence of biodiversity. Another measure, called complementarity, explicitly captures the differences between places as we iterate the process of place prioritization, starting with an initial place. The relative concept of biodiversity built into the definition of complementarity has the level of precision needed to undertake conservation planning.

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