Successful conservation plans are not solely achieved by acquiring optimally designed reserves. Ongoing monitoring and management of the biodiversity in those reserves is an equally important, but often neglected or poorly executed, part of the conservation process. In this paper we address one of the first and most important steps in designing a monitoring program - deciding what to monitor. We present a strategy for prioritizing species for monitoring and management in multispecies conservation plans. We use existing assessments of threatened status, and the degree and spatial and temporal extent of known threats to link the prioritization of species to the overarching goals and objectives of the conservation plan. We consider both broad and localized spatial scales to capture the regional conservation context and the practicalities of local management and monitoring constraints. Spatial scales that are commensurate with available data are selected. We demonstrate the utility of this strategy through application to a set of 85 plants and animals in an established multispecies conservation plan in San Diego County, California, USA. We use the prioritization to identify the most prominent risk factors and the habitats associated with the most threats to species. The protocol highlighted priorities that had not previously been identified and were not necessarily intuitive without systematic application of the criteria; many high-priority species have received no monitoring attention to date, and lower-priority species have. We recommend that in the absence of clear focal species, monitoring threats in highly impacted habitats may be a way to circumvent the need to monitor all the targeted species.
Keywords: Endangered species; Habitat Conservation Plans; Natural Community Conservation Plans; focal species; monitoring; multispecies conservation; systematic conservation planning.
© 2007 The Authors.