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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A framework for the identification of hotspots of climate change risk for mammals

Michela Pacifici, Piero Visconti and Carlo Rondinini


Maps of projected negatively impacted species by grid cell in the RCP8.5 scenario.

As rates of global warming increase rapidly, identifying species at risk of decline due to climate impacts and the factors affecting this risk have become key challenges in ecology and conservation biology. Here we present a framework for assessing three components of climate-related risk for species: vulnerability, exposure and hazard. We used the relationship between the observed response of species to climate change and a set of intrinsic traits (e.g., weaning age) and extrinsic factors (e.g., precipitation seasonality within a species geographic range) to predict, respectively, the vulnerability and exposure of all data-sufficient terrestrial non-volant mammals (3953 species). Combining this information with hazard (the magnitude of projected climate change within a species geographic range) we identified global hotspots of species at risk from climate change that includes the western Amazon basin, south-western Kenya, north-eastern Tanzania, north-eastern South Africa, Yunnan province in China, and mountain chains in Papua-New Guinea. Our framework identifies priority areas for monitoring climate change effects on species and directing climate mitigation actions for biodiversity.


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Species’ traits influenced their response to recent climate change​

Michela Pacifici, Piero Visconti, Stuart Butchart, James Watson, Francesca Cassola, Carlo Rondinini


The paper ‘Species traits influenced their response to recent climate change’ has just been  published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study reviews the observed impacts of climate change on birds and mammals and aims to identify the relationships between their response to climate change and a set of selected intrinsic traits and spatial factors, based on a total of 70 studies covering 120 mammal species and 66 studies relating to 569 bird species whose populations had (or sought evidence for) a response to climate change in recent decades.

The authors found evidence of observed responses to recent changes in climate for almost 700 species, but only 7% of mammals and 4% of birds that showed a negative response are coded on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as threatened by ‘climate change and severe weather’ under the ‘threats classification scheme’.

Mammals most at risk from climate change are not fossorial, and have low precipitation seasonality within their distributions. For birds, negative responses in both breeding and non-breeding areas were generally observed in species that live at high altitudes, and have low temperature seasonality within their distributions. In addition, large changes in temperature in the last decades negatively affected both mammals and birds.

According to predictions, it is likely that for 47% of threatened mammals and 23% of threatened birds at least one population has already responded negatively to climate change. “This implies that, in the presence of adverse environmental conditions, populations of these species have a high probability of being negatively impacted also by future climatic changes” says lead author Dr. Michela Pacifici at Sapienza University of Rome. The lab is partner of the IUCN Red List with the Global Mammal Assessment Program.

The list of charismatic species likely to have been negatively impacted include the snow leopard, the cheetah, the Bornean orangutan, both species of elephants, the western and eastern gorillas, the Javan, Sumatran and black rhinos among mammals, and the Fiordland crested penguin, the Spanish eagle and the Steller’s eider among birds.

By making predictions on the species for which the levels of climatic hazard experienced are known, the authors provide the first quantification of the number of taxa that may have already been impacted, and also validate trait-based vulnerability assessments. The results of this work suggest that the impact of climate change on mammals and birds in the recent past is currently greatly underappreciated, and this may have important implications for both the scientific community and intergovernmental policy fora.

“Solid evidence is accumulating that climate change has already affected some species, but not others. Based on this evidence, we identify the traits that can help species cope with change, or doom them to decline and endangerment” says lead Dr. Carlo Rondinini, coordinator of the Global Mammal Assessment Program at Sapienza University of Rome. “Our conclusion is that many more species not yet affected may be threatened by climate change in the near future”.

SharedIt link to access a view-only version of ther paper

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The broad footprint of climate change from genes to biomes to people

Brett R. Scheffers, Luc De Meester, Tom C. L. Bridge, Ary A. Hoffmann, John M. Pandolfi, Richard T. Corlett, Stuart H.M. Butchart, Paul Pearce-Kelly, Kit M. Kovacs, David Dudgeon, Michela Pacifici, Carlo Rondinini, Wendy B. Foden, Tara G. Martin, Camilo Mora, David Bickford, James, E.M. Watson.

Climate change impacts have now been documented across every ecosystem on Earth, despite an average warming of only ~1°C so far. Here, we describe the full range
and scale of climate change effects on global biodiversity that have been observed in natural systems. To do this, we identify a set of core ecological processes (32 in terrestrial and 31 each in marine and freshwater ecosystems) that underpin ecosystem functioning and support services to people. Of the 94 processes considered, 82% show evidence of impact from climate change in the peer-reviewed literature. Examples of observed impacts from metaanalyses and case studies go beyond wellestablished shifts in species ranges and changes to phenology and population dynamics to include disruptions that scale from the gene to the ecosystem.


Climate change impacts on ecological processes in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial
ecosystems. Impacts can be measured on multiple processes at different levels of biological organization within ecosystems. In total, 82% of 94 ecological processes show evidence of being affected by climate change. Within levels of organization, the percentage of processes impacted varies from 60% for genetics to 100% for species distribution.

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Fire policy optimization to maximize suitable habitat for locally rare species under different climatic conditions: A case study of antelopes in the Kruger National Park

Pacifici M., Visconti P., Scepi E., Hausmann A., Attorre F., Grant R. & Rondinini C. (2015). Fire policy optimization to maximize suitable habitat for locally rare species under different climatic conditions: A case study of antelopes in the Kruger National Park.

Biological Conservation, 191, 313-321. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2015.07.021


Fire is a key ecosystem driver in savannahs and it can have large impacts on species distribution and density. A re-examination of fire management in Kruger National Park is currently under review with the objective to maintain natural ecosystem dynamics and favour tourists’ ability to observe animals. We used data on location, intensity and frequency of fires and census data on three species considered as rare and of conservation concern in the park, tsessebe, roan and sable antelope to estimate the relationship between fire occurrence and species occurrence and density. We also investigated the impacts of different environmental predictors on antelope populations. The model predictors that most affected the density and presence of antelopes were mean fire return period, the type of geological substrate and the presence of water-points. We then used our models to evaluate different fire management scenarios and make recommendations for an optimal fire management strategy for the conservation of these rare antelopes. We also tested our scenarios under different precipitation conditions, in order to investigate the likely response of species to climate change. Roan antelope is the most sensitive species to climatic variations, while sable seems to be the most resilient. The approach described here can also be used to improve the conservation of locally rare species in other regions and habitats.

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