Aim To define priority sets of ecoregions that should be sufficiently covered in a reserve system to represent all Neotropical carnivores (Mammalia: Carnivora) under three distinct conservation scenarios.
Location The Neotropical region.
Methods We used broad-scale biogeographical data of species distribution to define priority sets of ecoregions for conservation of carnivores and mapped four species traits (phylogenetic diversity, body size, rarity and extinction risk), which were used as constraints in prioritization analyses, based on the complementarity concept. We proposed three scenarios: a very vulnerable one, one of species persistence and another of lower human impact. We used the simulated annealing algorithm to generate ecoregion-irreplaceability pattern and to find the combinations of ecoregions in each conservation scenario.
Results We found that only 8% of Neotropical ecoregions are needed to represent all 64 carnivore species at least once. Rain forest ecoregions harbour a greater amount of carnivore phylogenetic diversity, whereas the tropical Andes hold large-bodied carnivores. Western and southern Neotropical ecoregions have more rare species as well as higher threat levels. In the lower human-impact set, 12 ecoregions were needed to represent all species. These coincide only partially with those attained by other prioritization scenarios. In the very vulnerable and in the species persistence scenario, 14 and 12 ecoregions were represented, respectively, and the congruence between either one and the lower human-impact set was fairly low. Shared ecoregions are located in Mexico, Costa Rica, northern Amazon and western Chile.
Main conclusions Our results highlight areas of particular interest for the conservation of Neotropical carnivores. The inclusion of evolutionary and ecological traits in conservation assessments and planning helps to improve reserve networks and therefore to increase the effectiveness of proposed priority sets. We suggest that conservation action in the highlighted areas is likely to yield the best return of investments at the ecoregion scale.