Effects of Errors and Gaps in Spatial Data Sets on Assessment of Conservation Progress

VISCONTI, P. M. DI MARCO, J. G. ALVAREZ-ROMERO, S. R. JANUCHOWSKI-HARTLEY, R.L. PRESSEY, R. WEEKS AND C. RONDININI. 2013.
Conservation Biology 27, 1000-1010.

Data on the location and extent of protected areas, ecosystems, and species’ distributions are essential for determining gaps in biodiversity protection and identifying future conservation priorities. However, these data sets always come with errors in the maps and associated metadata. Errors are often overlooked in conservation studies, despite their potential negative effects on the reported extent of protection of species and ecosystems. We used 3 case studies to illustrate the implications of 3 sources of errors in reporting progress toward conservation objectives: protected areas with unknown boundaries that are replaced by buffered centroids, propagation of multiple errors in spatial data, and incomplete protected-area data sets. As of 2010, the frequency of protected areas with unknown boundaries in the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA)
caused the estimated extent of protection of 37.1% of the terrestrial Neotropical mammals to be overestimated by an average 402.8% and of 62.6% of species to be underestimated by an average 10.9%. Estimated level of protection of the world’s coral reefs was 25% higher when using recent finer-resolution data on coral reefs as opposed to globally available coarse-resolution data. Accounting for additional data sets not yet incorporated
into WDPA contributed up to 6.7% of additional protection tomarine ecosystems in the Philippines. We suggest ways for data providers to reduce the errors in spatial and ancillary data and ways for data users to mitigate the effects of these errors on biodiversity assessments.

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