Priorities for global felid conservation.
Dickman AJ., Hinks AE., Macdonald EA., Burnham D., Macdonald DW.
Conservation resources are limited, necessitating prioritization of species and locations for action. Most prioritization approaches are based solely on biologically relevant characteristics of taxa or areas and ignore geopolitical realities. Doing so risks a poor return on conservation investment due to nonbiological factors, such as economic or political instability. We considered felids, a taxon which attracts intense conservation attention, to demonstrate a new approach that incorporates both intrinsic species traits and geopolitical characteristics of countries. We developed conservation priority scores for wild felids based on their International Union for Conservation of Nature status, body mass, habitat, range within protected area, evolutionary distinctiveness, and conservation umbrella potential. We used published data on governance, economics and welfare, human population pressures, and conservation policy to assign conservation-likelihood scores to 142 felid-hosting countries. We identified 71 countries as high priorities (above median) for felid conservation. These countries collectively encompassed all 36 felid species and supported an average of 96% of each species' range. Of these countries, 60.6% had below-average conservation-likelihood scores, which indicated these countries are relatively risky conservation investments. Governance was the most common factor limiting conservation likelihood. It was the major contributor to below-median likelihood scores for 62.5% of the 32 felid species occurring in lower-likelihood countries. Governance was followed by economics for which scores were below median for 25% of these species. An average of 58% of species' ranges occurred in 43 higher-priority lower-likelihood countries. Human population pressure was second to governance as a limiting factor when accounting for percentage of species' ranges in each country. As conservation likelihood decreases, it will be increasingly important to identify relevant geopolitical limitations and tailor conservation strategies accordingly. Our analysis provides an objective framework for biodiversity conservation action planning. Our results highlight not only which species most urgently require conservation action and which countries should be prioritized for such action, but also the diverse constraints which must be overcome to maximize long-term success.