Setting Practical Conservation Goals: A Case Study With Birds In The Andes
If we had infinite resources to use in support of conservation goals, setting priorities wouldn’t be a necessity. Unfortunately, that is simply not the reality of most conservation efforts. To make decisions and compromises, researchers, policy-makers, and advocates need to assess how various species are impacted. This involves understanding which species are at-risk or crucial to ecosystems, and then optimally selecting sites that cover and protect the greatest proportion of species. According to this article, however, the data that informs such methods is “often unhelpful” and is too often based on grids, ecoregions, or even country boundaries that are largely arbitrary. In a place like Colombia, which is part of the Tropical Andes and holds 18% of the world’s bird species, conservation is a crucial practice.
This study set out to evaluate how to set conservation priorities “that might lead to direct conservation actions in Colombia,” with a special focus on practical outcomes for birds. First, the authors considered how recent surveys had expanded the currently known bird distributions. Although birds have been well-studied in Colombia, a history of political violence has made biological exploration challenging. Second, the authors created “realistic” species ranges, compared priority areas to existing range maps, and used all of this info to “show how to reconnect forest fragments.”
Using this approach, the authors came away with four practical recommendations that could be implemented by governments and conservationists. 1) down-scale regional or international conservation priorities that actually allow meaningful action; 2) Demarcate existing conservation ranges by elevation and remaining habitat, which is “extremely important in making tactical recommendations for land protection;” 3) Regularly update conservation priorities as knowledge of species’ ranges improves; 4) Complement national protected areas with “smaller, strategically positioned private reserves.”
While the researchers here make these recommendations specifically in the context of Colombian birds, it is easy to see how they could also be guiding principles for conservation priorities more generally.