Prof. Hugh Possingham in Sapienza

On 13th of May, the Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy(TNC), Prof. Hugh Possingham gave a talk on “Novel Conservation science and economics that drives outcomes for The Nature Conservancy” at the Department of Biology and Biotechnologies in Sapienza University of Rome. Prof. Possingham kicked off the session by introducing TNC. He then highlighted the role of mathematics, economics and decision science in conservation. The students also got to know about the famous decision science software Marxan from the inventor himself. The talk then progressed towards some of the projects implemented by TNC. “Debt for nature swaps” was one of the fascinating projects implemented by TNC where a country’s debt was paid by TNC in exchange for commitments to protect nature. In another project called “Reverse Auction”, the farmers were actually given money to leave water in their farms during the winter for the birds. He also talked about the projects which harnessed the potential of geospatial and decision science tools for protecting nature. Development of conservation plan in Mongolia using Marxan, action maps for pollution were some of the examples of such projects. The talk was followed by a short and lively question/answer session.

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Geographic distribution ranges of terrestrial mammal species in the 1970s

by Michela Pacifici, Andrea Cristiano, Andrew A. Burbidge, John C.Z. Woinarski, Moreno Di Marco, Carlo Rondinini

Read the full article here (open access!)


Here we provide geographic distribution ranges for 205 species of terrestrial non‐volant mammals in the 1970s. We selected terrestrial non‐volant mammals because they are among the most studied groups, have greater availability of historical distribution data for the 1970s decade, and also show the largest range contractions compared to other taxonomic groups (Di Minin et al. 2013; Ripple et al., 2014). Species belong to 52 families and 16 orders. Range maps were extracted from scientific literature including published papers, books, and action plans. For Australian species, due to the absence of published maps, we collated occurrence data from individual data sets (maintained by museums and government agencies) and converted these into polygonal range maps. Taxonomic and geographic biases towards more studied (charismatic) species are inevitably present. Among the most abundant orders, the highest percentage representation is for Carnivora (55 species, corresponding to 21% of species in the order), Cetartiodactyla (24 species, 10% of the order) and Perissodactyla (6 species, 38% of the order). In contrast, the percentage representation is low for Rodentia (66 species, 3% of species in the order), Primates (19 species, 4%) and Eulipotyphla (6 species, 1%). The proportional representation of less speciose orders is highly variable. The dataset offers the opportunity to measure the recent (1970‐present) change in the distribution of terrestrial mammal species, and test ecological and biogeographical hypotheses about such change. It also allows to identify areas where changes in species distribution were largest.

The GMA PhD fellows joined the Inspire4Nature workshop on Key Biodiversity Areas in Rhodes, Greece.

In the Greek island of Rhodes, the oldest inhabited medieval town in Europe, and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, we put ourselves into work. Our objective was to experience a real life scenario in the selection of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA). We went trough theoretical and practical exercises to identify sites in Greece contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity. With the input from external scientists specialized in different taxonomic groups and KBA experts, we followed the Global Standard for the identification of Key Biodiversity Areas. This document highlights a resulting effort of more than 30 years in identifying important sites for different taxonomic, ecological and thematic subsets of biodiversity.

The training session took place at the historic building of the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) in Rhodes, Greece.

The process started with a scoping analysis to compile a list of species in Greece that could trigger the species-based criteria for potential KBAs. Quality data of the species and region of interest are necessary to verify that the proposed species comply with the relevant thresholds. KBA identification and delineation is done by overlaying spatial data of the species with existing conservation sites (e.g. Protected areas) or management units.

After official submission of a proposed area, the KBA secretariat coordinates the process to confirm species’ presence at the site, refine delineation to yield manageable boundaries, and if the threshold is met, finally confirm the site as a new KBA.

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GMA Lab joins the Global #ClimateStrike #FridaysForFuture

Today GMA Lab joined the Global Strike for Climate, by organising an open-air seminar on the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. The event took place in the courtyard of the Zoology Institute at Sapienza University, featuring presentations from Carlo Rondinini, Moreno Di Marco, Michela Pacifici (Michela was on video during maternity leave!), and Dino Biancolini.


The session started with a presentation on IPCC 1.5°C report, and continued with an overview of the predicted impact of global climate change on the extinction risk of mammals and plants, and the risk of spread of alien species. Many students and academics joined the event and engaged in discussions with the speakers, before heading off to the Students Ride for Climate event and other activities organised by Sapienza University.



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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