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. 2014 Jan 8;9(1):e82898.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082898. eCollection 2014.

Global Priorities for Marine Biodiversity Conservation

Free PMC article

Global Priorities for Marine Biodiversity Conservation

Elizabeth R Selig et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article


In recent decades, many marine populations have experienced major declines in abundance, but we still know little about where management interventions may help protect the highest levels of marine biodiversity. We used modeled spatial distribution data for nearly 12,500 species to quantify global patterns of species richness and two measures of endemism. By combining these data with spatial information on cumulative human impacts, we identified priority areas where marine biodiversity is most and least impacted by human activities, both within Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). Our analyses highlighted places that are both accepted priorities for marine conservation like the Coral Triangle, as well as less well-known locations in the southwest Indian Ocean, western Pacific Ocean, Arctic and Antarctic Oceans, and within semi-enclosed seas like the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. Within highly impacted priority areas, climate and fishing were the biggest stressors. Although new priorities may arise as we continue to improve marine species range datasets, results from this work are an essential first step in guiding limited resources to regions where investment could best sustain marine biodiversity.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Analytical process for identifying priority areas according to their biodiversity and impact levels.
This illustration shows the process for identifying priority areas, which was done separately for EEZ and ABNJ areas. For each metric of diversity—richness, range rarity and proportional range rarity—we identified the top values within 5% of total EEZ or ABNJ area (red). We also identified the top (yellow) and bottom (blue) 10% of EEZ and ABNJ area by impact. Priority areas were then identified by the area of overlap between each biodiversity metric and areas of high impact (orange) or low impact (purple).
Figure 2
Figure 2. Spatial patterns for (A) species richness, (B) range rarity, and (C) proportional range rarity and (D) cumulative human impacts within EEZs and ABNJ.
The highest values for all diversity measures within 5% of EEZ or ANBJ area are also shown. Due to scale, not all values may be visible. EEZ boundaries are shown in white.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Priority areas for marine biodiversity conservation
for (A) species richness, (B) range rarity, and (C) proportional range rarity within EEZs and ABNJ. Orange areas denote priority areas with high human impacts and green denotes areas with low human impacts. Total area of priorities is 7,233,550 km2 within EEZs and 9,894,560 km2 within ABNJ (Tables S5, S6).
Figure 4
Figure 4. Intensity and extent of climate (red), fishing (green), ocean-based (blue) pollution, and land-based impacts (orange) as a percentage of total impacts within highly impacted priority areas.
Patterns are shown for priority areas that were designated based on (A) richness within EEZs (B) and ABNJ, (C) range rarity within EEZ and (D) ABNJ, and (E) proportional range rarity within EEZs and (F) ABNJ. Zero values are not shown.

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Grant support

Funding for this work was provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Cinco Hermanos, a grant from the Packard Foundation to the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and support to the IUCN-GMSA from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Thomas W. Haas Foundation. K.K.'s work was conducted in part while working on the PELAGIC project co-financed by the Fondation pour la Recherche en Biodiversité and Fondation Total. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.