Site-based conservation is widely recognized as a fundamental step in halting biodiversity loss at a global scale. In the last decades, reserves have been established for a variety of reasons, and in the best cases, site selection strategies at national scales have been adopted (Margules & Pressey, 2000). The most common approach applied so far in planning conservation areas and testing their effectiveness is the ‘hotspot methodology’, which is based on richness maps with the final goal of protecting the largest possible number of species in the smallest possible area (Whittaker et al., 2005). To evaluate the conservation efficacy of different areas for saproxylic beetles in Italy, we adopted this approach, applying a prioritization analysis based on the concept of irreplaceability (Pressey et al., 1993). Our results revealed that that the Italian network is still far from adequate to protect all biodiversity components. Covering about 20% of the Italian land area (Gambino & Negrini, 2002), the existing protected areas without doubt provide a precious service in shielding habitat from destructive use and hence in reducing biodiversity loss, but the most valuable areas for saproxylic conservation are not included in this network.

As geographic patterns of species richness vary taxonomically (Samways, 2007; Bode et al., 2008), areas selected for vertebrate exigencies could not adequately represent invertebrate conservation needs. In fact, in our study area the same type of analyses carried out on vertebrates produced a dissimilar pattern of conservation importance (Maiorano, Falcucci & Boitani, 2006; Maiorano et al., 2007; D'Amen et al., 2011). Even among vertebrates, discrepancies in priority maps for different classes have been shown in North America (Bombi, unpubl. data). In light of these evidence, the hotspot methodology focused on specific taxa should be complemented with a compositionalist approach (Mateo et al., 2013), aimed at preserving the diversity of different taxonomic groups within the same reserve network. This could be a first step to overcome the taxonomic bias toward vertebrates in the designation of conservation priorities.

To date, invertebrates have been neglected in the vast majority of reserve selections, which is a result of the scarcity of knowledge of their ecology and distribution. This impediment has been previously evidenced by Cardoso et al. (2011a) as the scientific dilemma: basic science on invertebrates is scarce and underfunded. Two other concerns were raised by Cardoso et al. (2011a): (1) the ecological services of the invertebrates are mostly unknown to the general public (public dilemma), and (2) policymakers and stakeholders are mostly unaware of their conservation problems (political dilemma). The first step in recognizing the importance of conserving saproxylic insects for European forests dates back to the 1980s, thanks to the European Council (1988) and the renowned report on saproxylic insects of Speight (1989). With regard to financial instruments, a very important step was the first ‘Terrestrial Inverterbrates Platform Meeting’ held in 2011 (Newquay, Cornwall, UK) on the initiative of the Head of the LIFE Unit of the European Commission. This conference introduced for the first time in the Nature 2000 framework a real opportunity for innovative projecting among beneficiaries and experts in terrestrial invertebrate conservation. One of the main challenges identified by the participants was filling the knowledge gaps caused by inconsistent and insufficient data on invertebrates (Silva et al., 2012). The Terrestrial Inverterbrates Platform Meeting also highlighted the benefits of citizen science (Fontaine et al., 2012). The Italian National Center of Forest Biodiversity of ‘Bosco Fontana’ represents a successful example of this synergism between professionals and volunteers, where in about four years, with the support of the LIFE project NAT 99/IT/0006245, over 2500 species of invertebrates were recorded in the 233 ha of floodplain forest (Mason et al., 2002; Cerretti et al., 2004). Although the LIFE Programme is mainly focused on conservation actions, the Terrestrial Inverterbrates Platform Meeting recognized a possible way to overcome the knowledge gap by financing large-scale research surveys under the Research Framework Programme (FP7 or FP8) or under the more recently introduced ‘Horizon 2020’ Programme (European Commission, 2013). As an immediate consequence of the Terrestrial Inverterbrates Platform Meeting, in 2011 six LIFE Nature projects focusing on invertebrate conservation were co-financed by the European Commission (more than 20 million Euro). Previously, it took about ten years to finance the same number of projects on invertebrates.

The lack of basic scientific research for many invertebrate groups also limits the application of more complex modeling techniques to predict the potential effect of environmental changes on natural populations. In fact, we share the concerns expressed by Cabeza (2013) about the potential effect of climate change in the assessment of species conservation status. There is growing evidence that climate change will become one of the major drivers of species extinctions in the 21st Century (Foden et al., 2008). An increasing number of peer-reviewed papers document phenologic, morphologic, behavioral and genetic alterations in natural populations of different groups (e.g. Hughes, 2000; Parmesan, 2007). Moreover, changes in the places where species are found have been detected, due to the dispersion towards newly suitable conditions (e.g. Hughes, 2000; Walther, Post & Bairlein, 2002; Parmesan, 2006). Such changes may be affected in unpredictable ways by physical changes wrought by humans. When neither adaptation nor shifting range is possible, extinction is a likely scenario (Rosenzweig et al., 2007). As species range adjustments take place, protected areas may lose their importance (e.g. Rodrigues et al., 2004; Heller & Zavaleta, 2009). Thus, to collectively achieve all the conservation targets for current and projected distributions, studies that model species responses to projected future conditions are needed (Hannah et al., 2002; Williams et al., 2005; D'Amen et al., 2011).

In our case, even if substantial understanding of the spatial distribution for saproxylic coleopteran exists, the low number of records for several species impeded us from adopting a distribution model approach to predict the impacts of climate change. In addition to the paucity of occurrence data, other factors may limit the use of distribution modeling to obtain species suitability maps for saproxylic beetles (and other invertebrates), especially at high resolution. The poor knowledge of adult and larval ecological requirements (Cardoso et al., 2011b) makes it difficult to individuate sound predictors of suitable habitat. Also, detailed distribution maps of specific microhabitats or other environmental variables are quite scarce and limited to restricted areas. Thus, a further step in the conservation actions for invertebrates would be to increase such basic knowledge to take into account the potential impacts of climate change (Hossell et al., 2003). Because many species are poor dispersers and are unlikely to colonize distant areas, a fundamental key factor to consider in the planning phase would be also to foresee an adequate level of connectivity to allow movements to new suitable conditions (Williams et al., 2005).

Protected areas alone offer a limited defense against problems posed by the multiplicity of human stressors and rapid environmental change. In fact, the matrix of land uses surrounding protected areas provides a biophysical framework that both impacts core reserves and hampers biodiversity in transition. Moreover, the extension of the conservation network could not be unlimited thus conservation measures implemented outside protected areas are essential. For saproxylic conservation the sustainability of forestry practices is a fundamental aspect to consider because, as evidenced by Cabeza, forestry activities are carried out in over 60% of the Natura 2000 sites. Mature and senescent trees and dead and decaying wood are fundamental habitat features needed by saproxylic beetles to develop and feed. Thus, managing landscapes to preserve insects, balancing human economic needs and biodiversity conservation, is a future challenge.


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