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Modelling distributional trends to inform conservation strategies for an endangered species


Correspondence: Conor D. Wilson, Quercus, School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast, MBC, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL, UK.


Aim  Species loss has increased significantly over the last 1000 years and is ultimately attributed to the direct and indirect consequences of increased human population growth across the planet. A growing number of species are becoming endangered and require human intervention to prevent their local extirpation or complete extinction. Management strategies aimed at mitigating a species loss can benefit greatly from empirical approaches that indicate the rate of decline of a species providing objective information on the need for immediate conservation actions, e.g. captive breeding; however, this is rarely employed. The current study used a novel method to examine the distributional trends of a model endangered species, the freshwater pearl mussel, Margaritifera margaritifera (L.).

Location  United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.

Methods  Using species presence data within 10-km grid squares since records began three-parameter logistic regression curves were fitted to extrapolate an estimated date of regional extinction.

Results  This study has shown that freshwater pearl mussel distribution has contracted since known historical records and outlier populations were lost first. Within the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, distribution loss has been greatest in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, respectively, with the Republic of Ireland containing the highest relative proportion of M. margaritifera distribution, in 1998.

Main conclusions  This study provides empirical evidence that this species could become extinct throughout countries within the United Kingdom within 170 years under the current trends and emphasizes that regionally specific management strategies need to be implemented to prevent extirpation of this species.