Aim The large rivers of the Neotropics are considered areas of high diversity and endemism, which play an important role in the distribution patterns and evolution of Neotropical biota. Several methods have been proposed for prioritizing terrestrial conservation areas, but there has been little effort to develop models for river systems. We propose a panbiogeographical approach to identify priority areas for conservation along rivers.
Location The Plata Basin rivers.
Methods We compared the individual tracks (IT) of 96 snake taxa and identified the species associated with rivers using the concept of preferential direction of distribution. For each taxon, we measured the angular deviations between the line of its IT and the course of the rivers on a 100 × 100 km scaled grid. Average angular values < 45° indicated a positive association with rivers. We detected 35 taxa associated with rivers, and their IT were used to determine the generalized tracks (GT) and nodes. We applied a complementarity algorithm to identify the minimum set of nodes required to represent all species.
Results Six nodes were found. The region where the High and Upper Paraná Rivers converge (Node 1) is of first priority, with 60 of 96 species. The second priority is the Lower Paraguay River and northern section of Middle Paraná River (Node 2). The third is the High Paraná, which together with Nodes 1 and 2, comprises 94% of the total species. The fourth and fifth are the High and Middle Uruguay, and the western section of the Upper Paraná and Iberá Marsh system, respectively. These five nodes include all species.
Main conclusions Our results highlight the areas of particular interest for the conservation of rivers and provide a biogeographical algorithm for detecting priority conservation areas. The nodes are a biogeographical approach that allows evolutionary and ecological traits to be included in conservation assessment.