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Plant and Animal Endemism in the Eastern Andean Slope: Challenges to Conservation

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Plant and Animal Endemism in the Eastern Andean Slope: Challenges to Conservation

Jennifer J Swenson et al. BMC Ecol.

Abstract

Background: The Andes-Amazon basin of Peru and Bolivia is one of the most data-poor, biologically rich, and rapidly changing areas of the world. Conservation scientists agree that this area hosts extremely high endemism, perhaps the highest in the world, yet we know little about the geographic distributions of these species and ecosystems within country boundaries. To address this need, we have developed conservation data on endemic biodiversity (~800 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, and plants) and terrestrial ecological systems (~90; groups of vegetation communities resulting from the action of ecological processes, substrates, and/or environmental gradients) with which we conduct a fine scale conservation prioritization across the Amazon watershed of Peru and Bolivia. We modelled the geographic distributions of 435 endemic plants and all 347 endemic vertebrate species, from existing museum and herbaria specimens at a regional conservation practitioner's scale (1:250,000-1:1,000,000), based on the best available tools and geographic data. We mapped ecological systems, endemic species concentrations, and irreplaceable areas with respect to national level protected areas.

Results: We found that sizes of endemic species distributions ranged widely (< 20 km2 to > 200,000 km2) across the study area. Bird and mammal endemic species richness was greatest within a narrow 2500-3000 m elevation band along the length of the Andes Mountains. Endemic amphibian richness was highest at 1000-1500 m elevation and concentrated in the southern half of the study area. Geographical distribution of plant endemism was highly taxon-dependent. Irreplaceable areas, defined as locations with the highest number of species with narrow ranges, overlapped slightly with areas of high endemism, yet generally exhibited unique patterns across the study area by species group. We found that many endemic species and ecological systems are lacking national-level protection; a third of endemic species have distributions completely outside of national protected areas. Protected areas cover only 20% of areas of high endemism and 20% of irreplaceable areas. Almost 40% of the 91 ecological systems are in serious need of protection (= < 2% of their ranges protected).

Conclusions: We identify for the first time, areas of high endemic species concentrations and high irreplaceability that have only been roughly indicated in the past at the continental scale. We conclude that new complementary protected areas are needed to safeguard these endemics and ecosystems. An expansion in protected areas will be challenged by geographically isolated micro-endemics, varied endemic patterns among taxa, increasing deforestation, resource extraction, and changes in climate. Relying on pre-existing collections, publically accessible datasets and tools, this working framework is exportable to other regions plagued by incomplete conservation data.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Comparison of hand drawn vs. modelled species distribution map. Hand-drawn range map (a) used in many continental studies with (b), a modeled species distribution for Cycanolyca viridicyanus in southwestern Peru (Vilcabamba). National protected areas (white), and department boundaries (black lines) and elevation as backdrop.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Study area. The Amazon basin of Peru and Bolivia with current protected areas. Protected areas information from INRENA-Peru, and FAN-Bolivia, elevation from Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Distribution of predicted range sizes by species groups
Figure 4
Figure 4
a-d - Endemic species richness. Overlapping distribution maps for different species groups: a) birds, b) mammals c) amphibians d) Fuchsia genus plant species. Fuchsia is shown as an example of one of the 15 groups modelled (See http://www.natureserve.org/andesamazon for maps of individual species and all plant groups).
Figure 5
Figure 5
Endemic vertebrate species richness. Combined endemic mammal, bird, and amphibian richness over a three-dimensional oblique perspective. Viewpoint is from northeastern Peru looking south across the Amazon basin towards the southern Peruvian and northern Bolivian Andes.
Figures 6
Figures 6
a-d - Summed irreplaceability analysis for different species groups; a) birds, b) mammals c) amphibians d) plants from all 13 groups.
Figure 7
Figure 7
Biodiversity indicators. Discrete centres of vertebrate endemism and high levels of summed irreplaceability (all species groups), and ecological systems with less than 10% of their ranges protected.
Figure 8
Figure 8
Ecological systems detail of subarea in northern Peru.
Figure 9
Figure 9
Ecological systems protection. Percentage of each system's range protected in study area.

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