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Biodiversity hotspots: hot for what

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Biodiversity hotspots: hot for what
  © 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd. 225 ECOLOGICAL SOUNDING Global Ecology & Biogeography   (2001) 10 , 225–227 BlackwellScience,Ltd Biodiversity hotspots: hot for what? PAUL JEPSON* and SUSAN CANNEY†* School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TB, U.K., † Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, U.K. ABSTRACT In complex areas of international policy, such asbiodiversity conservation, there is a risk that well-promoted strategies will be received by decisionmakers as a cure-all. The U.S.-based ConservationInternational is promoting biodiversity hotspots asa ‘silver bullet’ strategy for conserving most speciesfor least cost. We assess the degree to which thisgoal is compatible with four social values that char-acterize the conservation movement. We find thatbiodiversity hotspots provide only a partial responsebecause conservation does not treat all species asequal. We argue that explicit recognition of suchvalues is fundamental to a structured debate con-tributing to the development of a common strategyfor biodiversity conservation. Key words biodiversity hotspots, biodiversity policy,conservation ethics, systematic conservation planning.The Biodiversity Hotspot approach (macro-scaleidentification of areas containing at least 0.5% of the world’s plant species as endemics combinedwith 70% loss of primary vegetation) (Myers et al. ,2000) is being promoted by the U.S.-based non-government organization, Conservation International(hereafter CI) as a ‘silver bullet’ strategy for con-serving most species for least cost. The approachhas been endorsed by eminent American ecologistsas a central pillar of an ambitious agenda to counterthe problem of biodiversity loss (Dalton, 2000).A risk with all well-promoted strategies is thatthey are received by decision makers as a cure-all.This is particularly so in complex areas of inter-national policy, such as biodiversity conservation,where strategies need to be applied in different eco-logical, political and cultural situations, against abackground of urgency, irreversibility and scient-ific uncertainty. The notion of a ‘biodiversity crisis’combined with such complexity increases the appealof conceptually simple strategies such as the hot-spots scheme. It is appropriate for CI, a privateorganization with a global vision, to choose a singlestrategy as their focus. However, public bodies arecharged with delivering values to which societyaspires (e.g. peace, economic growth, nature con-servation), and should therefore evaluate carefullysuch strategies before incorporating them in theirown policy. In short, focusing conservation efforton twenty-five ‘biodiversity hotspots’ globally maybe a valid approach for ensuring the survival of thegreatest number of species, but we question whetherthis is the single objective of biodiversity (nature)conservation. We ask to what extent will retainingthe greatest number of species  per se  deliver the goalsof conservation as generally understood by society?Conservation only has meaning in the context of human intention. It is a social movement workingto develop and maintain (sometimes impose) valuesin society concerning the human-nature relation-ship. Consequently, the science of setting spatialpriorities must be values-based. In the present paperwe assemble current social values relating to speciesconservation and assess the degree to which conserv-ing most species for least cost meets these concerns.Based on Ehrlich & Ehrlich (1992) we group thesevalues according to four themes: (1) aesthetic andintellectual contemplation of nature is integral tothe biological and cultural inheritance of manypeoples (Wilson, 1984); (2) humans lack the rightto cause knowingly the extinction of another lifeform (Leopold, 1949); (3) species are critical compon-ents of the healthy ecosystems necessary to sup-port economic and social development (Ehrlich &  226 P. L. Jepson and S. Canney  © 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd, Global Ecology & Biogeography , 10 , 225–227 Ehrlich, 1992); and (4) it is prudent to maintainthe Earth’s genetic library from which society hasderived the basis of its agriculture and medicine(Myers, 1979).The first value, expressed as nature observationand contemplation, has been pursued in the contextof our spiritual, artistic and intellectual traditionsthrough the ages. This has attached cultural meaningto some species and also landscapes and naturalphenomena. Distribution of such species will reflectpatterns of human civilization, trade and recrea-tion. Conserving species with cultural value, whichis analogous to conserving works of art, is a validcriterion for prioritization of conservation invest-ments. It was for this reason that the first naturemonuments and reserves in Europe were design-ated during the early decades of the 20th century(Conwentz, 1909). When applied to spectacularlandscapes and linked with cultural nationalismit became an important motivator of the nationalpark movements in North America (Sellars, 1997).Biodiversity hotspots identify areas that are ‘bio-logically spectacular’ by virtue of species richness,diversity and endemism. These elements of naturecontain aesthetic as well as scientific qualities.Although they hold particular fascination for bio-logists, societies are more eclectic in their appreci-ation of the spectacular in nature. As a consequence,biodiversity hotspots capture only a part of this value.From a position of ethics or compassion (thetheme of our second value), society attaches greaterimportance to sentient or ‘charismatic’ species. Thegeneral view among environmental philosophersis that this is valid (Elliot, 1995). It is an expres-sion of two deeply held beliefs: (a) that humanityexists within a greater ‘other’ and this prohibitsauthority to knowingly cause the extinction of otherproducts of evolution, or God’s creation (Nasr, 1993);and (b) that compassion is a definer of our specialhuman identity, which is brought into question byunnecessary cruelty to animals (Lowe, 1983), espe-cially those with whom we perceive a kinship byvirtue of their sentience, beauty or other ‘noble’qualities.Conservation of ‘charismatic’ species contains ele-ments of themes one and two and is a traditionalmotivator of conservation action, yet biodiversityhotspots omit famous centres of mega-fauna inAfrica and North America and coincide with others(e.g. in Indochina, India and Sulawesi) by chancerather than design. In short, the biodiversityhotspot approach has a limited ability to representaesthetic and ethical reasons for protecting spe-cies spatially, because the methodology treats allspecies as equal units of analysis and uses non-sentient species (plants) as the primary identifier.The ecosystem consequences of altered divers-ity are poorly understood but considered profound(Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 1981). In a recent review, Chapin et al  . (2000, p. 234) conclude that ‘the number andkinds of species present determine the organismaltraits that influence ecosystem processes’, and thatthe ‘sixth major extinction event’ will alter ecosystemprocesses and ecosystem resilience to environmentalchange. This will jeopardize the services that humansderive from ecosystems and, by implication, soci-ety should take action to avoid what has beendubbed the ‘largest experiments in the history of earth’ (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 1981). Such prudenceis the basis of our third value (above), and appearsto be the primary concern of proponents of bio-diversity hotspots (see question is, could the biodiversity hotspotsapproach protect or deliver ecosystems serviceswhere we want them? As hotspots are predomin-antly tropical forest landscapes (fifteen of twenty-five) under threat, successful conservation of theseareas will benefit global ecosystem service (e.g.climate regulation). However, the services humansrequire at the local scale are ignored. Because theboundaries of causal relationships within whichspecies function, and within which the world’s majorpopulation centres are embedded, are predomin-antly local and regional, land-use planners every-where need to take action. The hotspot approachby itself does not offer a blueprint to guide suchefforts.By contrast, focusing conservation effort on bio-diversity hotspots may well maximize maintenanceof Earth’s genetic library (our fourth value), as theapproach emphasizes areas high in unique spe-cies. However, the fact that biodiversity hotspotscoincide with only two of the five Vavilov (1987)centres of srcin of cultivated plants suggests thatthey capture only part of the genetic library withdirect value to humanity.In conclusion, we have briefly reviewed fourvalue-based reasons for conserving species, andcontend that the biodiversity hotspots approachprovides only a partial response. We have shownthat conservation does not treat all species as equal.As a result, spatial priorities and public policy  Biodiversity hotspots 227 © 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd, Global Ecology & Biogeography , 10 , 225–227 cannot be determined on the basis of simple speciescounts, which is the foundation of Myers et al  .’s(2000) approach.In response to the Biodiversity Hotpots scheme,Mace et al  . (2000) called for ‘a structured debate toidentify common goals’ of biodiversity conservationas a first step in developing a ‘commonly adoptedblueprint for action’. We endorse this position butargue that explicit recognition of all conserva-tionist values is fundamental to this debate. Webelieve this is necessary for several reasons. First,it will expedite the difficult task of identifying com-monly held views about the goals of conservation.Secondly, it maintains the public appeal of conserva-tion and guards against this becoming an abstractscientific pursuit. Thirdly, it helps to ensure that newand well-promoted strategies do not overshadow orundermine important and valid pre-existing schemes.Finally, it promotes public transparency and account-ability in the biodiversity strategies and policies of public and nongovernment organizations.The four values that we have briefly discussed areuniversal but operate differently in different cul-tures and at different scales. The proposition thatnature (biodiversity) conservation embraces culturaland scientific values with srcins in a variety of world views demands a pluralism in conserva-tion strategy and approach. As others have arguedbefore, an armoury, not a ‘silver bullet’, is what isrequired. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We thank Tony Cunnigham, Susanne Schmitt,Jack Tordoff and two anonymous referees foruseful discussions and/or comments on earlierdrafts of this sounding. REFERENCES Chapin, F.S. III, Zavaleta, E.S., Eviner, V.T., Naylor, R.L.,Vitousek, P.M., Reynolds, H.L., Hooper, D.U.,Lavorel, S., Osvaldo, E.S., Hobbie, S.E., Mack, M.C.& Diaz, S. (2000) Consequences of changing bio-diversity. Nature , 405 , 234–242.Conwentz, H. (1909) The Care of Nature Monuments .Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Dalton, R. (2000) Ecologists back blueprint to savebiodiversity hotspots. Nature , 406 , 926.Ehrlich, P.A. & Ehrlich, A.H. (1992) The value of bio-diversity. Ambio , 21 , 219–226.Elliot, R. (ed.) (1995) Environmental Ethics . OxfordUniversity Press, Oxford.Ehrlich, P.R. & Ehrlich, A.H. (1981) Extinction: thecauses and consequences of the disappearance of species . Random House, New York.Leopold, A. (1949) A Sand County Almanac . OxfordUniversity Press, Oxford.Lowe, P.D. (1983) Values and Institutions in the His-tory of British Nature Conservation. Conservationin progress  (ed. by A. Warren and F.B. Goldsmith),pp. 329–352. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, London.Mace, G.M. et al.  (2000) It’s time to work together andstop duplicating conservation efforts. Nature , 405 , 393.Myers, N. (1979) The Sinking Ark  . Pergamon Press,Oxford.Myers, N., Mittermeier, R.A., Mittermeier, C.G., daFonseca, G.A.B. & Kent, J. (2000) Biodiversity hot-spots for conservation priorities. Nature , 203 , 853–858.Nasr, S.H. (1993) The Need for a Sacred Science . CursonPress, Richmond.Sellars, R.W. (1997) Preserving Nature in the National Parks . Yale University Press, New Haven.Vavilov, N.I. (1987) (Translation 1992) Origin and Geo- graphy of Cultivated Plants . Cambridge UniversityPress, Cambridge.Wilson, E.O. (1984) Biophilia . Harvard University Press,Cambridge, MA. BIOSKETCHES Paul Jepson  followed a career in urban conservation in the U.K. before moving into international conservation in 1991. He is a specialist in conservation strategy and planning. A former chairman of the Oriental Bird Club, he established and managed the BirdLife International-Indonesia Programme (1991–97). He is currently conducting research on protected area policy in Indonesia and advising on new conservation projects in Indonesia and Vietnam. Susan Canney  worked on various conservation projects in Africa and Eastern Europe before joining the Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding in 1993. In 1996 she  joined the zoology department, where she is conducting research on human use and vegetation change in the Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania.
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