Letter

Nature 444, 93-96 (2 November 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05237; Received 24 July 2006; Accepted 8 September 2006

There is a Brief Communications Arising (6 December 2007) associated with this document.

Global distribution and conservation of rare and threatened vertebrates

Richard Grenyer1,10,11, C. David L. Orme2,11, Sarah F. Jackson3, Gavin H. Thomas4,10, Richard G. Davies3, T. Jonathan Davies1,10, Kate E. Jones5, Valerie A. Olson5,10, Robert S. Ridgely6, Pamela C. Rasmussen7, Tzung-Su Ding8, Peter M. Bennett5, Tim M. Blackburn4, Kevin J. Gaston3, John L. Gittleman1,10 & Ian P. F. Owens2,9

  1. Department of Biology, Gilmer Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22904, USA
  2. Division of Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK
  3. Biodiversity & Macroecology Group, Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK
  4. School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK
  5. Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, London NW1 4RY, UK
  6. Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103, USA
  7. Michigan State University Museum and Department of Zoology, Michigan 48824-1045, USA
  8. School of Forestry & Resource Conservation, National Taiwan University, Taipei 106, Taiwan
  9. Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Population Biology, Silwood Park, Ascot, Berkshire, SL5 7PY, UK
  10. Present addresses: Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, UK (R.G.); NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK (G.H.T.); Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK (V.A.O.); Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA (J.L.G., T.J.D.).
  11. These authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to: Richard Grenyer1,10,11John L. Gittleman1,10Ian P. F. Owens2,9 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to R.G. (Email: r.grenyer@kew.org), or I.P.F.O (Email: i.owens@imperial.ac.uk) or J.L.G. (Email: jlg@uga.edu) for database enquiries.

Global conservation strategies commonly assume that different taxonomic groups show congruent geographical patterns of diversity, and that the distribution of extinction-prone species in one group can therefore act as a surrogate for vulnerable species in other groups when conservation decisions are being made1, 2, 3, 4. The validity of these assumptions remains unclear, however, because previous tests have been limited in both geographical and taxonomic extent5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Here we use a database on the global distribution of 19,349 living bird, mammal and amphibian species to show that, although the distribution of overall species richness is very similar among these groups, congruence in the distribution of rare and threatened species is markedly lower. Congruence is especially low among the very rarest species. Cross-taxon congruence is also highly scale dependent, being particularly low at the finer spatial resolutions relevant to real protected areas. 'Hotspots' of rarity and threat are therefore largely non-overlapping across groups, as are areas chosen to maximize species complementarity. Overall, our results indicate that 'silver-bullet' conservation strategies alone will not deliver efficient conservation solutions. Instead, priority areas for biodiversity conservation must be based on high-resolution data from multiple taxa.

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