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Biology

Study indicates that 4.6% of the world comprises protected areas for mammal conservation

A new map of the world, produced by cross-referencing the priorities dictated by three different dimensions of biodiversity, has identified areas of major importance for the conservation of 4,547 species of land mammals. These areas cover 4.6% of the Earth’s surface, or about 6.8 million square kilometers (PNAS, July 3, 2017), and slightly more than one-fifth of that area is currently protected by law. The three biodiversity dimensions used were taxonomy, phylogeny and the functional role of the species. The first of these includes the species’ endemism, distribution and vulnerability. Viewed from this perspective, rarer animals merit greater attention. The second dimension focuses on maintaining different mammalian evolutionary lineages (marsupials, monotremes, placental animals). The third takes into account the habits or the ecological roles played by the animals, such as nocturnal or diurnal mammals, or their different diets. “This type of map has normally been based only on taxonomic richness and has thus given priority to areas that host many species,” says biologist Fernanda Brum, first author of the study, whose coauthors were researchers from Brazil, the United States and Europe. Brum is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Federal University of Goiás (UFG). “But it is also important to consider lineage diversity and animals with different traits when choosing areas for conservation.” The researchers started by making three separate maps, each one highlighting 17% of the Earth’s surface as a high-priority area for mammal conservation according to one dimension. The final map shows the common areas that are considered critical for mammal conservation across all three dimensions.

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