Scientists have applied a species prioritization scheme to Brazil’s diverse mammals to deduce which species should become the focus of conservation efforts over the next few years in a new paper published in mongabay.com’s open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science.
Rather than solely relying on the risk of extinction to prioritize species, the scheme – originally suggested by researchers at the Centro de Ecología for Venezuelan birds, but applied to Brazilian fauna by researchers at the Universidade Federal de Goiás – also takes into account the uniqueness of a species, its geographic flexibility or endemicity, and it’s public appeal. Brazilian mammal species were assigned a score for each of these categories, which were then multiplied together to obtain an overall priority score. The species could then be organized into high, medium and low priority.
A Northern Muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) mother and baby in Caratinga, Brazil. Photo by Bart van Dorp under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Of the 100 mammal species in the study, 23 were found to be high priority. As it stands, over half of these have no scheme currently in place for their protection. Seventeen of these high priority species were primates, including the black-bearded saki – for which an action plan is being prepared – and the northern muriqui.
Four rodent species were also classed as being high priority. However, unlike other mammal groups these species have received almost no attention, probably due to disinterest by the public and conservation groups. The candango mouse is one of these high priority species and its conservation status is widely disputed. The mouse was discovered in 1965 while the city of Brasília was being built and has not been sighted since. This has led to disparities in its status – being classed by the IUCN as Extinct, but by Brazil’s national red list as Critically Endangered. Further research needs to be undertaken to determine whether the candango mouse needs immediate conservation action, or whether it is indeed too late.
This prioritization scheme was also applied to various Brazilian eco-regions as well. A score was assigned to each region based on the number of high priority mammal species found there. Thirteen out of 48 areas were classified as being high priority, seven of which were within the Amazon rainforest, reiterating that the protection and conservation of the world’s largest rainforest remains critical.
Although most conservation plans are devised based on extinction risk, the researchers argue that other parameters should be taken into account to ensure the survival of some of Brazil’s more threatened species. The thin-spined porcupine is one example of how basing conservation action on extinction risk alone is not enough – classified by the IUCN as Vulnerable this species wouldn’t be the focus of conservation action, however based on this new ranking scheme, it is a high priority species. The porcupine is endemic to Brazil, being found nowhere else in the world, and is the only representative of the Chaetomys genus, making it highly unique. This new prioritization method may make considerable difference in protecting such overlooked species.
The implications of this method for conservation would be significant, as it is “simple, comprehensible, and can be used for other taxonomic groups and/or regions,” according to the authors, and takes into account socioeconomic, political and cultural issues that may be disregarded in other conservation strategies.
- Citation: Alves, D.M.C.C. and Brito, D. 2013. Priority mammals for biodiversity conservation in Brazil. Tropical Conservation Science. Vol 6(4): 558-583.
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