Using PARCAs to protect habitat


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One of the largest problems facing conservation efforts is
not one that most people would expect.

Simply stated, it is that biodiversity
is distributed unevenly across the planet.

Why is this such a big issue? What
it really comes down to is that the uneven distribution of biodiversity makes
it necessary to strategically identify and preserve habitat. If biodiversity
were distributed evenly across the globe, we could simply conserve a targeted amount
of habitat and call it a day. As you have probably figured out, setting conservation
targets is not such a simple task, but rather an inherently difficult challenge
that keeps conservation biologists up at night.

For decades now the world of conservation
biology has been looking for simple solutions on how to identify those areas in
nature that are the most important to protect. In other words, how do we
identify and preserve those areas that hold a disproportionately high amount of
biodiversity? The earliest efforts in this field focused on preserving areas of
exceptional richness (or number of species), an approach aimed at getting the
“most bang for your buck”. Of course, species richness is an important metric,
but it does not tell the whole story on biodiversity. We now realize that if
you are going to protect habitat for several species, it is vital that we
choose habitat that will sustain large populations of the target species (a
concept known as landscape viability). Seems simple right? It does not make
much sense to attempt to preserve a population that will not persist for the
foreseeable future.

With this in mind, three members of
The Orianne Society (Dr. Chris Jenkins, Dr. Stephen Spear, and Dr. J.J.
Apodaca) are teaming with the Southeastern Partners in Amphibians and Reptile
Conservation (SEPARC) and the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative
(SALCC) for a large-scale project aimed at identifying Priority Amphibian and
Reptile Conservation Areas
(or PARCAs) for the southeastern United States.
PARCAs are intended to be those areas that are both the most vital habitat for
amphibians and reptiles and those areas that provide large viable populations
for target species.

The PARCA idea is loosely based on
the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) movement. IBAs, a global initiative started by
BirdLife International, target areas essential to bird conservation. They have
arguably been one of the most successful conservation programs in the world. With
more than 8,000 IBAs in over 100 countries, IBAs are responsible for the
conservation of more than 350 million acres of habitat. This raises the
question; what can be expected of the PARCA project?

Building a network of protected
areas focused on amphibians and reptiles, similar to that of the IBAs, will
certainly take a large amount of time, effort, and momentum. However, the
southeastern PARCA project started by Drs. Jenkins, Apodaca, and Spear will
undoubtedly have some immediate impacts, such as raising the profile of high
priority species or areas, increasing public awareness of locally important
conservation areas, addressing some of the leading threats to amphibians and
reptiles, and hopefully elevating the importance of proper management at these
sites. With any luck, identified PARCAs will eventually receive the high level
of protection that will be required to preserve the amazing herpetofauna found
across the southeastern U.S.