When the method for mapping species matters: defining priority areas for conservation of African freshwater turtles


Pierluigi Bombi, SPACEnvironment, via Maria Giudice 23, 00135 Rome, Italy.
E-mail: pierluigi.bombi@gmail.com


Aim  Defining priority areas for conservation is essential to minimize biodiversity loss, but the adoption of different methods for describing species distributions influences the outcomes. In order to provide a robust basis for the conservation of freshwater turtles in Africa, we compared the effect that different species-mapping approaches had on derived patterns of species richness, species vulnerability and protected-area representativeness.

Location  Africa.

Methods  We adopted three different approaches with increasing complexity for generating species distribution maps. The first approach was based on the geographic intersection of species records and grid squares; the second on the union of local convex polygons; and the third on inductive distribution modelling techniques. We used distribution maps, generated using these three approaches, to determine conservation priorities based on geographic patterns of species richness and vulnerability, as well as for conducting gap and irreplaceability analyses.

Results  We obtained markedly different distribution maps using the three methods, which in turn caused differences in conservation priorities. The grid-square approach underestimated range sizes and species richness, while the polygon approach overestimated these attributes. The distribution modelling approach provided the most realistic outcome in terms of diversity patterns, by minimizing both commission and omission errors. An integrated map of conservation priority – derived by combining individual measures of priority based on the distribution modelling approach – identified the Gulf of Guinea coast and the Albertine Rift as major priority areas.

Main conclusions  Each species-mapping approach has both advantages and disadvantages. The choice of the most appropriate approach in any given situation depends on the availability of locality records and on the relative importance of mitigating omission and commission errors. Our findings suggest that in most circumstances, the use of distribution modelling has many advantages relative to the other approaches. The priority areas identified in this study should be considered for targeting efforts to conserve Africa freshwater turtles in the coming years.