Using biogeography to help set priorities in marine conservation

Biogeographic information has great potential to enhance systematic conservation planning, although it has yet to be routinely incorporated in marine situations. Fundamental differences between marine and terrestrial environments (physical, biological, and sociopolitical) mean that biogeographic data are harder to obtain for marine systems, biogeographic boundaries more difficult to define, and the outcomes of similar conservation approaches may differ. Despite these challenges, an understanding of spatial context, connections, and scales of processes is needed to set conservation priorities that ensure the representation and continued persistence of species and habitats within functioning ecosystems. As we discovered in our review, scientific knowledge of marine systems is increasing rapidly thanks to recent advances in genetics, remote sensing, and geographical information systems. Such knowledge and tools have important implications for marine planning. We also reviewed the degree to which biogeography is incorporated into current marine conservation projects at spatial scales ranging from global to local. Overall, initiatives are becoming more regional in scope and incorporating biogeographic data in an increasingly rigorous manner. However, initiatives that use few or no data are also on the rise and need to be treated with due caution. We recommend undertaking global and regional reviews within biogeographic frameworks; combining analytical approaches to determine biogeographic classifications and to define a range of potential conservation areas with stakeholder involvement to set priorities; understanding contemporary processes that maintain species distributions; and acquiring knowledge of historical distributions to provide appropriate baselines for current conservation. The urgent need for marine conservation, however, means that planning should proceed with the best currently available biogeographic information even while biogeographic research continues.

Lourie, S.A. & A.C.J. Vincent (2004). Using biogeography to help set priorities in marine conservation. Conservation Biology18(4), 1004-1020.