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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Mar 14;103(11):4157-61. Epub 2006 Mar 6.

Latent extinction risk and the future battlegrounds of mammal conservation.

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  • 1Division of Biology and Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot SL5 7PY, United Kingdom.


Global conservation prioritization usually emphasizes areas with highest species richness or where many species are thought to be at imminent risk of extinction. However, these strategies may overlook areas where many species have biological traits that make them particularly sensitive to future human impact but are not yet threatened because such impact is currently low. In this article, we identify such areas for the world's mammals using latent extinction risk, the discrepancy between a species' current extinction risk and that predicted from models on the basis of biological traits. Species with positive latent risk are currently less threatened than their biology would suggest, usually because they inhabit regions or habitats still comparatively unmodified by human activity. Using large new geographic, biological, and phylogenetic databases for nearly 4,000 mammal species, we map the global geographic distribution of latent risk to reveal areas where the mammal fauna is still relatively unthreatened but has high inherent sensitivity to disturbance. These hotspots include large areas such as the Nearctic boreal forests and tundra that are unrepresented in most current prioritization schemes, as well as high-biodiversity areas such as the island arc from Indonesia to the south Pacific. Incorporating latent extinction risk patterns into conservation planning could help guard against future biodiversity loss by anticipating and preventing species declines before they begin.

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