The expert or the algorithm? - comparison of priority conservation areas in the Cape Floristic Region identified by park managers and reserve selection software

Cowling, R.M., Pressey, R.L., Sims-Castley, R., le Roux, A., Baard, E., Burgers, C. J., and Palmer, G. (2003) The expert or the algorithm? - comparison of priority conservation areas in the Cape Floristic Region identified by park managers and reserve selection software. Biological Conservation, 112 (1-2). pp. 147-167.

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Expert-based and systematic, algorithm-based approaches to identifying priority areas for conservation are sometimes posited as alternatives. While both approaches have pros and cons, the systematic approach does have the advantage of providing a region-wide assessment of the options for achieving explicit conservation targets. A distinct advantage of the expert-driven approach is its incorporation of expert knowledge on biodiversity persistence and pragmatic management and implementation issues not normally included in biodiversity feature-site data matrices. Given the widespread application of both approaches, surprisingly little research has been undertaken to evaluate their conservation planning outcomes. Here we compare priority conservation areas in South Africa's Cape Floristic Region identified by park managers and reserve-selection software. Managers identified 29 areas (a wishlist) that together, comprised 31% of the planning domain and had 40% of its area under some form of conservation management. This wishlist was assessed for the extent to which it achieved targets for biodiversity pattern and process over and above the existing conservation system, and its incorporation of priority areas identified in terms of conservation value and vulnerability to processes that threaten biodiversity. Overall, the wishlist reflected a desire by managers to improve management efficiency and facilitate rapid implementation by expanding existing, largely montane reserves into low-priority areas where land tenure is sympathetic to conservation. Consequently, it was not very effective and efficient in achieving pattern and process targets, and it excluded large areas of vulnerable and inadequately conserved lowland habitat-the areas currently in most need of conservation action. Further, it provided no basis for scheduling implementation or for exploring alternative areas to achieve the same goals, unlike systematic approaches. Nonetheless, the manager's wishlist did include many highly innovative and feasible projects that make important contributions to the conservation of the region's biodiversity. Rather than emphasize the dichotomy between expert and systematic approaches, conservation planners should devise ways of integrating them. In particular, priority areas identified by experts should be carefully considered against the backdrop of the outcomes of systematic conservation planning.

Item ID: 9999
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1873-2917
Keywords: conservation priority; expert knowledge; expert workshop; systematic conservation planning; threats
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2010 06:05
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050205 Environmental Management @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9606 Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation > 960605 Institutional Arrangements for Environmental Protection @ 100%
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