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Keywords:

  • rats;
  • cats;
  • goats;
  • restoration;
  • Red List birds

Abstract

In the last 400 years, more species have become extinct on small islands than on continents. Yet, scant attention has hitherto been paid to prioritizing island restorations. Nevertheless, considerable conservation effort is now devoted to removing a major cause of these extinctions – invasive alien vertebrates. Because modern techniques allow the clearance of invasive vertebrates from quite large islands (up to 1000 km2), many islands are candidates for restoration. A robust strategy for allocating available funds is urgently needed. It requires, for each candidate island, an objective estimation of conservation gain and a method for predicting its financial cost. Our earlier work showed that a good first-pass estimate of vertebrate eradication costs can be made using just island area and target species. Costs increase with island area, while rodents are more expensive per unit area than ungulates. Here, we develop a method for assessing the conservation benefit of a proposed eradication and apply the method to threatened birds, but not other taxa. The method, combining information on how threatened a species is, on the impact of alien vertebrates on that species and on the islands on which the species occurs, allows us to present a means of determining which islands yield the greatest conservation benefit per unit of expenditure on vertebrate eradication. In general, although greater overall benefit would accrue to birds from eradication of invasive vertebrates on larger islands, benefit per unit of expenditure is the highest on relatively small islands, and we identify those that should be priority targets for future eradications. Crucially, this quantitative assessment provides considerable efficiency gains over more opportunistic targeting of islands. The method could be adapted to prioritize islands on a regional or national basis, or with different conservation gains in mind.