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Designing a conservation area network that supports the representation and persistence of freshwater biodiversity


Jeanne L. Nel, CSIR, PO Box 320, Stellenbosch 7599, South Africa. E-mail:


1. The progression of approaches in systematic conservation planning from representation to representation and persistence has greatly enhanced its potential applicability to freshwaters. However, conceptual frameworks that consolidate principles for incorporating persistence into freshwater conservation planning are still lacking.

2. We present four key principles to consider when planning for the persistence of freshwater biodiversity: selecting ecosystems of high ecological integrity; incorporating connectivity; incorporating areas important to population persistence; and identifying additional natural processes that can be mapped.

3. The practicalities of gathering data and conducting the conservation plan to address these principles are explored here using a case study in the Olifants/Doorn Water Management Area, South Africa. Spatial layers are developed for depicting ecological integrity, sub-catchment boundaries, riparian zones and wetlands, high water-yield areas and patterns of groundwater discharge and recharge.

4. These data are used to develop a conservation area network that supports both representation and persistence of freshwater biodiversity. Although the planning region is relatively data rich by global standards, several data deficiencies were identified. We suggest ways of using environmental surrogates to address data deficiencies, improving confidence in these surrogates by combining them wherever possible with existing field data and expert knowledge.

5. We also recommend methods to achieve spatial efficiency by simultaneously designing for representation and persistence of freshwater biodiversity. Spatial efficiency can be achieved in different ways when using a conservation planning algorithm and a multiple-use zoning strategy.

6. The allocation of multiple-use zones aligns closely with the objectives of integrated water resources management and land use planning. Given the practicalities at local levels of planning, we recommend using multiple-use zones in the design phase, rather than merely at the end once the design is complete.