Protected areas are now the last strongholds for many imperiled mammal species

Michela Pacifici, Moreno Di Marco, James Watson

Top 20 species of mammals threatened by range reduction. The figure highlights species with the highest percentage range contraction since 1970s. Red circles represent species for which protected areas represent the last bastions (> 50% range is protected). Blue circles show species with very high rates of range decline, and relatively small portions of the current distribution protected (< 50%). In each big circle, percentage values at the top indicate range loss, while those at the bottom represent the amount of range currently protected. Protected areas are represented in green. Small dots represent the centroid of the range of the other species in the original sample. A full species list of the top 20 mammals threatened by range reduction (big circles) is provided in Table S1

The global network of terrestrial protected areas (PAs) has experienced a fourfold expansion since the 1970s. Yet, there is increasing debate around the role of the global PA estate in covering and sustaining threatened species, with serious ramifications for current PA financing and the setting of post‐2020 global conservation targets. By comparing “past” (1970s) and current distribution range of 237 mammals, and measuring the proportion of range covered by PAs in the past and in the present, we show that a small number of PAs have now become the last bastions of hope for ensuring the persistence of many mammal species. For 187 species (∼79% of those analyzed) the proportion of range covered by PAs has doubled over the time period, with 10% of all species now having most of their current range protected. This increase in proportional protection over time is largely due to a retreat of species distribution (outside existing PAs) and, in smaller part, to PA expansion. It is clear that adequately resourcing those PAs critical in sustaining mammal species is now essential, to avert a worldwide rapid mammal loss.

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Projected Global Loss of Mammal Habitat Due to Land-Use and Climate Change

Daniele Baisero, Piero Visconti, Michela Pacifici, Marta Cimatti, Carlo Rondinini


Human pressure on the environment is driving a global decline of biodiversity. Anticipating whether this trend can be reverted under future scenarios is key to supporting policy decisions. We used the InSiGHTS framework to model the impacts of land-use and climate change on future habitat availability for 2,827 terrestrial mammals at 15 arcmin resolution under five contrasting global scenarios based on combinations of representative concentration pathways and shared socio-economic pathways between 2015 and 2050. Mammal habitat declined globally by 5%–16% depending on the scenario. Africa (with declines up to 25%) and South America were the most affected regions. African insectivores, primates, Australian carnivorous marsupials and marsupial moles, and South American opossums declined the most. Tackling this loss would require a mix of actions across scales, including a global shift toward sustainability, addressing land-use change in sub-Saharan Africa, and helping endemic species track climate change in South America.

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Global correlates of range contractions and expansions in terrestrial mammals

Michela Pacifici, Carlo Rondinini, Jonathan R. Rhodes, Andrew A. Burbidge, Andrea Cristiano, James E. M. Watson, John C. Z. Woinarski & Moreno Di Marco

Schermata da 2020-06-05 13-50-24Understanding changes in species distributions is essential to disentangle the mechanisms that drive their responses to anthropogenic habitat modification. Here we analyse the past (1970s) and current (2017) distribution of 204 species of terrestrial non-volant mammals to identify drivers of recent contraction and expansion in their range. We find 106 species lost part of their past range, and 40 of them declined by >50%. The key correlates of this contraction are large body mass, increase in air temperature, loss of natural land, and high human population density. At the same time, 44 species have some expansion in their range, which correlates with small body size, generalist diet, and high reproductive rates. Our findings clearly show that human activity and life history interact to influence range changes in mammals. While the former plays a major role in determining contraction in species’ distribution, the latter is important for both contraction and expansion.

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Drought vulnerability among China’s ungulates and mitigation offered by protected areas

Lyubing Zhang, Michela Pacifici, Binbin V. Li, Luke Gibson

Schermata da 2020-05-11 11-22-13

Ongoing perturbations in the global climate have triggered changes in the frequency or magnitude of extreme climatic events, including drought. Increasingly common or intense droughts have threatened ungulates. Intensifying trend of drought has been observed in China since the 1980s. We assessed drought vulnerability of 60 ungulate taxa distributed in China by synthesizing information on drought exposure and intrinsic vulnerability related to biological traits. In total, 27 taxa were identified as vulnerable to drought, which represent over half of the taxa assessed as threatened in the IUCN Red List and China’s National Red List. We identified hotspots where a high number of drought‐vulnerable taxa are concentrated, including Northeast Himalayan subalpine conifer forests, alpine conifer and mixed forests of Nujiang‐Lancang Gorge, and Qionglai‐Minshan conifer forests, which are all located in Southwest China. We also assessed conservation efforts that China has allocated to ungulate taxa vulnerable to drought. Drought‐vulnerable taxa that are endemic to China have significantly lower coverage in China’s National Nature Reserve system compared with nonvulnerable taxa. These findings reveal the gaps in existing conservation efforts and indicate possible improvements that might be needed to maintain species resistance in the face of increasing and intensifying drought impacts.

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Measuring the surrogacy potential of charismatic megafauna species across taxonomic, phylogenetic and functional diversity on a megadiverse island

Marsya C. Sibarani, Moreno Di Marco, Carlo Rondinini, Salit Kark
Schermata da 2019-02-18 12-14-02

Conservation organisations and governments often use charismatic megafauna as surrogates to represent broader biodiversity. While these species are primarily selected as “flagships” for marketing campaigns, it is important to evaluate their surrogacy potential, i.e., the extent to which their protection benefits other biodiversity elements. Four charismatic megafauna species are used as surrogates in the megadiverse island of Sumatra: the Sumatran tiger Panthera tigris sumatrae, Sumatran elephant Elephas maximus sumatranus, Sumatran orangutan Pongo abelii and Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis. We examined how well each of these species performed in representing the distribution of all co‐occurring terrestrial mammal species on the island, and the priority areas for the conservation of three facets of mammalian biodiversity (taxonomic, phylogenetic and functional).

We used habitat suitability models to represent the distribution of 184 terrestrial mammal species, 160 phylogenetic groups and 74 functional trait groups. We then identified priority conservation areas using the spatial prioritisation software Zonation.

We found that the habitat overlaps between each of the four charismatic species and the other mammal species varied, ranging from a mean of 52% (SD = 27%) for the tiger to 2% (SD = 2%) for the rhino. Combining the four species together only improved the representation levels marginally compared to only using the tiger. Among the four charismatic megafauna species, the extent of suitable habitat of Sumatran tiger covered the highest proportion of priority conservation areas. The Sumatran tiger also outperformed most of other mammal species with similar range sizes.

We found that some of the top‐ranked conservation areas for taxonomic (28%), phylogenetic (8%) and functional diversity (19%) did not overlap with any of the charismatic species’ suitable habitat.

Synthesis and applications. Wide‐ranging charismatic species can represent broader mammalian biodiversity, but they may miss some key areas with high biodiversity importance. We suggest that a combination of systematic spatial prioritisation and surrogacy analyses are important in order to determine the allocation of conservation resources in biodiversity‐rich areas such as Sumatra, where an expansion of the protected area network is required.


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Welcome (back) to Moreno Di Marco, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the GMA!


Moreno Di Marco won a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship with the project PROTECTNICHE. The project, presented by the researcher of the Department of Biology and Biotechnology at Sapienza Università di Roma in collaboration with Dr Carlo Rondinini, aims at disentangling the impacts of humans, climate change, and life history on the climatic niches of terrestrial mammals. The goal is to inform a conservation strategy for preventing future species declines. The extinction of species is the most alarming consequence of global biodiversity decline, with potential dramatic effects on our economy and well-being. The current rate of climate change is predicted to further increase extinction risk, hence there is urgent need to anticipate species decline rather than reacting to it. The breadth of a species’ niche – the set of environmental conditions in which the species can persist – is the key ecological trait that allows adaptation to environmental change, but is often ignored in conservation planning applications. This is a research area of primary interest in Europe, given the European Commission has recognised that business opportunities from investing in biodiversity conservation could be worth US$ 2-6 trillion by 2050 (source Sapienza)

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Applying habitat and population‐density models to land‐cover time series to inform IUCN red list assessments

Luca Santini, Stuart H.M. Butchart, Carlo Rondinini, Ana Benítez‐López, Jelle P. Hilbers, Aafke Schipper, Mirza Cengic, Joseph A. Tobias, Mark A.J. Huijbregts
schermata da 2019-01-21 15-15-15

The IUCN Red List categories and criteria are the most widely used framework for assessing the relative extinction risk of species. The criteria are based on quantitative thresholds relating to the size, trends and structure of species’ distributions and populations. However, data on these parameters are sparse and uncertain for many species and unavailable for others, potentially leading to their misclassification, or classification as Data Deficient.

Here we propose an approach combining data on land‐cover change and species‐specific habitat preferences, population abundance and dispersal distance to estimate key parameters (extent of occurrence, maximum area of occupancy, population size and trend, and degree of fragmentation) and hence IUCN Red List categories.

We demonstrate the applicability of our approach for non‐pelagic birds and terrestrial mammals globally (∼15,000 species), generating predictions fairly consistent with published Red List assessments, but more optimistic overall. We predict 4.2% of species (467 birds and 143 mammals) to be more threatened than currently assessed, and 20.2% of Data Deficient species (10 birds and 114 mammals) to be at risk of extinction. However, incorporating the habitat fragmentation sub‐criterion reduced these predictions 1.5‐2.3% and 6.4‐14.9% (depending on the quantitative definition of fragmentation) of threatened and Data Deficient species respectively, highlighting the need for improved guidance to Red List assessors on applying this aspect of the Red List criteria.

Our approach can be used to complement traditional methods of estimating parameters for Red List assessments. Furthermore, it can readily provide an early warning system to identify species potentially warranting changes in their extinction risk category based on periodic updates of land cover information. Given that our method relies on optimistic assumptions about species distribution and abundance, all species predicted to be more at risk than currently evaluated should be prioritized for reassessment.

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4 new PhD students joined the GMA group!

newmembersWe are delighted to welcome 4 very bright young researchers as PhD fellows!

They are all part of the Innovative Training Network (ITN-ETN) project, Inspire4 Nature, funded by the European Union under the Horizon 2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions.

Prabhat Raj Dahal – Project “Advancing quantitative analyses for IUCN Red List assessments of species’ risk of extinction”

Ivon Cuadros Casanova Project “How will halting biodiversity loss affect the achievement of other Sustainable Development Goals?”

Maria Lumbierres Project “Where will further Key Biodiversity Areas be identified? A modelling approach to focus efforts”

Carmen Soria Project “Projected effect of global change on species’ change in extinction risk”


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BioNNA: the Biodiversity National Network of Albania

Michela PacificiFabio AttorreStefano MartellosFerdinand BegoMichele De SanctisPetrit HodaMarjolMeçoCarlo RondininiEnerit SaçdanakuElson Salihaj, Edoardo Scepi, Lulëzim ShukaAndrea Ghiurghi

Screenshot 2018-03-13 16.40.05

Recently, the Albanian Government started the process to join the European Union. This process also involves matching the EU parameters in protecting its biodiversity. In order to support the Albanian authorities, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, General Directorate for Development Cooperation (DGCS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) joined efforts in the project “Institutional Support to the Albanian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Water Administration for Sustainable Biodiversity Conservation and Use in Protected Areas”. This project aims at identifying priority needs in safeguarding ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation. Another project funded by the EU – “Strengthening capacity in National Nature Protection – preparation for Natura 2000 network” – started in 2015 with the aim to raise awareness for assisting local and national Albanian institutions to better exploit the potential of protected areas. One of the main issues encountered during these projects was the need for a national biodiversity data repository. The Biodiversity National Network of Albania (BioNNA) has been created to aggregate occurrence records of plants and animals and aims at becoming the most relevant source of information for biodiversity data as far as Albania is concerned. In this paper, the authors detail structure and data of BioNNA, including the process of data gathering and aggregation, taxonomic coverage, software details and WebGIS development. BioNNA is a milestone on the path towards Albania’s inclusion in the EU and has also a relevant potential social relevance for improving people’s awareness on the importance of biodiversity in the country.

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Small terrestrial mammals of Albania: distribution and diversity (Mammalia, Eulipotyphla, Rodentia)

Ferdinand Bego, Enerit Saçdanaku, Michela PacificiCarlo Rondinini


Altitudinal distribution of STM species and frequency of occurrence records by altitude in Albania.

In this paper we report new records for at least 23 species of small terrestrial mammals (STM) of Albania collected during the field work campaigns organized in the framework of the project “Strengthening capacity in National Nature Protection – preparation for Natura 2000 network” (NaturAL) in Albania during the summer and autumn of 2016 and 2017. Data on small mammals were primarily collected through Sherman live-trapping campaigns in six high priority protected areas of Albania: Korab-Koritnik, Bredhi i Hotovës, Tomorri, Llogara-Karaburun, Divjakë-Karavasta, Liqeni i Shkodrës (Skadar lake), Lëpushë-Vermosh. Other data were obtained by analysis of owl pellets or by direct observation of individuals (dead or alive) in the field. For 21 species Erinaceus roumanicus, Neomys anomalus, Crocidura suaveolens, Crocidura leucodon, Suncus etruscus, Talpa stankovici/caeca, Myocastor coypus, Sciurus vulgaris, Glis glis, Dryomys nitedula, Muscardinus avellanarius, Microtus levis/arvalis, Microtus subterraneus, Microtus thomasi, Microtus felteni, Myodes glareolus, Apodemus sylvaticus, Apodemus flavicollis, Apodemus epimelas, Mus musculus, Mus macedonicus we provide additional records and review their distribution, while the presence of two new species of shrews (Sorex araneus and Sorex minutus) for Albania is reported for the first time. A comprehensive review of the published and unpublished distribution records of STM species of the country is made. Based on previous and recent records an updated checklist and distribution maps of the species are produced and presented in the supplements of this paper.

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