The representation potential of raptors for globally important nature conservation areas

Santangeli, A. & Girardello, M. (2021) The representation potential of raptors for globally important nature conservation areas.

Ecological Indicators, 124, 107434. DOI:10.1016/j.ecolind.2021.107434 (IF2020 4,958; Q1 Environmental Sciences)
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  • Dec, 2021


Stemming from a pervasive lack of knowledge on biodiversity, important areas for conservation are typically identified using a subset of well known species, commonly termed surrogate or indicator groups. Birds have been commonly used as biodiversity surrogates due to the good level of knowledge on their taxonomy, ecology and distribution. Raptors in particular have been often proposed as an effective surrogate for other biodiversity based on their dietary diversity, being at the top of the food chain, their preference for highly productive areas, their generally threatened status and high public appeal. However, so far the surrogacy effectiveness of raptors has been largely studied locally or using a narrow selection of surrogate and surrogated taxa.

Here we use a spatial conservation planning tool to quantify the surrogacy performance of raptors, overall and by different raptor groups (hawks and eagles, falcons, vultures, owls) to represent important biodiversity areas (such as IUCN protected areas and key biodiversity areas), wilderness areas and the worlds ecoregions. We compared the above surrogacy performance with that of all other non-raptor avian species.

We show that raptors perform marginally worse than all other avian species in representing important biodiversity areas and ecoregions. However, raptors representation for wilderness areas was similar or slightly better compared to that of using all non-raptor birds. We also report a large variation in the representation performance by the four raptor groups. Falcons had a particularly high potential in representing protected areas and wilderness areas, equaling or largely surpassing the representation potential provided by all raptors and all other non-raptor birds.

Overall, the results suggest that raptors, and particularly falcons, can perform relatively well in representing some important areas for conservation, such as protected areas and wilderness areas, but are relatively poor surrogates for key biodiversity areas and ecoregions. These rather contrasting results call for caution on the use of raptors as global surrogates of wider biodiversity.