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There is general agreement among scientists that biodiversity is under assault on a global basis and that species are being lost at a greatly enhanced rate. This article examines the role played by biogeographical science in the emergence of conservation guidance and makes the case for the recognition of Conservation Biogeography as a key subfield of conservation biology delimited as: the application of biogeographical principles, theories, and analyses, being those concerned with the distributional dynamics of taxa individually and collectively, to problems concerning the conservation of biodiversity. Conservation biogeography thus encompasses both a substantial body of theory and analysis, and some of the most prominent planning frameworks used in conservation. Considerable advances in conservation guidelines have been made over the last few decades by applying biogeographical methods and principles. Herein we provide a critical review focussed on the sensitivity to assumptions inherent in the applications we examine. In particular, we focus on four inter-related factors: (i) scale dependency (both spatial and temporal); (ii) inadequacies in taxonomic and distributional data (the so-called Linnean and Wallacean shortfalls); (iii) effects of model structure and parameterisation; and (iv) inadequacies of theory. These generic problems are illustrated by reference to studies ranging from the application of historical biogeography, through island biogeography, and complementarity analyses to bioclimatic envelope modelling. There is a great deal of uncertainty inherent in predictive analyses in conservation biogeography and this area in particular presents considerable challenges. Protected area planning frameworks and their resulting map outputs are amongst the most powerful and influential applications within conservation biogeography, and at the global scale are characterised by the production, by a small number of prominent NGOs, of bespoke schemes, which serve both to mobilise funds and channel efforts in a highly targeted fashion. We provide a simple typology of protected area planning frameworks, with particular reference to the global scale, and provide a brief critique of some of their strengths and weaknesses. Finally, we discuss the importance, especially at regional scales, of developing more responsive analyses and models that integrate pattern (the compositionalist approach) and processes (the functionalist approach) such as range collapse and climate change, again noting the sensitivity of outcomes to starting assumptions. We make the case for the greater engagement of the biogeographical community in a programme of evaluation and refinement of all such schemes to test their robustness and their sensitivity to alternative conservation priorities and goals.

Original publication




Journal article


Diversity and Distributions

Publication Date





3 - 23