Bargain-hunting for biodiversity

March 16, 2020

KNOXVILLE --The best bargains for conserving some of the world's most vulnerable salamanders and other vertebrate species can be found in Central Texas and the Appalachians, according to new conservation tools developed at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The study involves a suite of computer algorithms that surf across many different kinds of data to create maps of top priorities and projections of what species would benefit the most from increases in conservation dollars.

An interdisciplinary team of computer programmers, biodiversity data scientists, conservation decision makers, economists, and others from around the globe convened at NIMBioS to develop the optimization tool, which was published in the journal Ecological Applications.

Determining where the best protection payoffs are to be found has traditionally been a challenge for conservation, especially when budgets are stretched thin.

"The challenge for conservation practitioners is how to best combine many really disparate kinds of data and do so in a way that lets them compare possible options for protection--the goal being to find opportunities where conservation efforts offer the greatest bang for the buck," said the study's lead author, UT Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Paul Armsworth.

The algorithm considers data including land acquisition costs, future development patterns, budget allocations for conservation, and the presence of threatened species.

The new approach could prove valuable to conservation and natural resource managers looking to optimize conservation dollars.

"It's basically a giant bargain-hunting formula for biodiversity conservation," said Joe Fargione, science director for the North American region at the Nature Conservancy, a leading conservation organization. "The authors are finding important bargains--places where the most good for the most species can be done, sometimes at very low cost."

When comparing many possible scenarios and models, the researchers found that some priority areas for protection arose repeatedly. In the United States, those appeared to be in counties around Austin, Texas, and parts of the southern Appalachians.

The unique geology and complex groundwater systems around Austin provide habitats for highly specialized species. Many salamander species found there occur nowhere else in the world, with some receiving protection under the US Endangered Species Act because of their vulnerability to extinction.

The ancient mountains of southern Appalachian Mountains provided a refuge for species through past Ice Ages. The rich topography and diversity of habitats in the region provide a global hotspot for many different groups of species.

"Both areas offer very good deals if you only have a limited budget to work with and are trying to protect vulnerable species. Adding more protection into these places wouldn't be too expensive. And these habitats could be in trouble in the future if additional protection isn't undertaken," Armsworth said.
-end-
The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis is a National Science Foundation-supported center that brings together researchers from around the world to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries to investigate solutions to basic and applied problems in the life sciences. NIMBioS is supported through NSF Award #DBI-1300426 with additional support from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

CONTACT:

Catherine Crawley, NIMBioS, 865-974-9350, ccrawley@nimbios.org

Paul Armsworth, UT, 865-974-9748, p.armsworth@utk.edu

National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS)

Related Conservation Articles from Brightsurf:

New guide on using drones for conservation
Drones are a powerful tool for conservation - but they should only be used after careful consideration and planning, according to a new report.

Elephant genetics guide conservation
A large-scale study of African elephant genetics in Tanzania reveals the history of elephant populations, how they interact, and what areas may be critical to conserve in order to preserve genetic diversity of the species.

Measuring the true cost of conservation
BU Professor created the first high-resolution map of land value in the United states.

Environmental groups moving beyond conservation
Although non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become powerful voices in world environmental politics, little is known of the global picture of this sector.

Hunting for the next generation of conservation stewards
Wildlife ecology students become the professionals responsible for managing the biodiversity of natural systems for species conservation.

Conservation research on lynx
Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (Leibniz-FMP) discovered that selected anti-oxidative enzymes, especially the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD2), may play an important role to maintain the unusual longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes.

New 'umbrella' species would massively improve conservation
The protection of Australia's threatened species could be improved by a factor of seven, if more efficient 'umbrella' species were prioritised for protection, according to University of Queensland research.

Trashed farmland could be a conservation treasure
Low-productivity agricultural land could be transformed into millions of hectares of conservation reserve across the world, according to University of Queensland-led research.

Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
Researchers investigate and describe the conservation importance of buildings relative to natural, alternative roosts for little brown bats in Yellowstone National Park.

Applying biodiversity conservation research in practice
One million species are threatened with extinction, many of them already in the coming decades.

Read More: Conservation News and Conservation Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.