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Keywords:

  • multiple criteria analysis;
  • assisted colonization;
  • climate change;
  • habitat suitability;
  • release site selection;
  • translocation;
  • tortoise;
  • Pseudemydura umbrina

Abstract

Many species with restricted ranges or poor dispersal ability will occupy suboptimal habitats under climate change. The practice of translocating populations to more suitable areas outside the known historical range (assisted colonization) has been advanced as a solution to reduce the risk of extinction in the wild. Due to the high-risk and bureaucratic complexities of assisted colonization, it is imperative that a systematic process is used to select release sites that have a reduced likelihood of translocation failure. Here we demonstrate how a spatially explicit, three-stage multiple criteria analysis (MCA) can be used to identify potentially suitable sites for assisted colonization of an endangered species. We employ this method as an initial screening process, prior to final selection of sites for assisted colonization of the critically endangered western swamp tortoise (Pseudemydura umbrina). This species occurs naturally in two small reserves in southwestern Australia, and is currently threatened by a shift to a drier climate and consequent changes to hydrological regimes. A literature review, characteristics of remnant P. umbrina habitat, and expert knowledge were used to create a composite index of habitat suitability, mapped across the entire south-west bioregion of Australia. The most suitable sites were 150 to 250 km south of the known range of P. umbrina, in areas of high landscape connectivity and low human population density. A subset of sites were examined in further detail and ranked using weighted summation. Careful use of MCA, taking into account data uncertainties and differences in expert opinion, can be a valuable tool when evaluating novel habitats for threatened species.