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Conserv Biol. 2009 Apr;23(2):259-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01158.x. Epub 2009 Feb 24.

Assessing the threat status of ecological communities.

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1
Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Manor House, Buckhurst Road, Ascot, Berkshire SG5 7PY, United Kingdom. e.nicholson@imperial.ac.uk

Abstract

Conservationists are increasingly interested in determining the threat status of ecological communities as a key part of their planning efforts. Such assessments are difficult because of conceptual challenges and a lack of generally accepted criteria. We reviewed 12 protocols for assessing the threat status of communities and identified conceptual and operational issues associated with developing a rigorous, transparent, and universal set of criteria for assessing communities, analogous to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List standards for species. We examined how each protocol defines a community and its extinction and how each applies 3 overarching criteria: decline in geographic distribution, restricted geographic distribution, and changes to ecological function. The protocols vary widely in threshold values used to assess declines and distribution size and the time frames used to assess declines, leading to inconsistent assessments of threat status. Few of the protocols specify a scale for measuring distribution size, although assessment outcomes are highly sensitive to scale. Protocols that apply different thresholds for species versus communities tend to require greater declines and more restricted distributions for communities than species to be listed in equivalent threat categories. Eleven of the protocols include a reduction in ecological function as a criterion, but almost all assess it qualitatively rather than quantitatively. We argue that criteria should be explicit and repeatable in their concepts, parameters, and scale, applicable to a broad range of communities, and address synergies between types of threats. Such criteria should focus on distribution size, declines in distribution, and changes to key ecological functions, with the latter based on workable proxies for assessing the severity, scope, and immediacy of degradation. Threat categories should be delimited by thresholds that are assessed at standard scales and are logically consistent with the viability of component species and important ecological functions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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