Representation of ecosystems is often put forth as a goal of conservation planning. The aim is to protect all major ecotypes in order to conserve the evolutionary potential for the entire protected area network. The Nature Conservancy estimates that 85 - 90% of all plant and animal species can be protected by ensuring ecosystem representation. However, past work has demonstrated that the protected area network for the U.S. does not capture the full range of ecological systems or geophysical features necessary for species and habitat conservation. Furthermore, climate change and anthropogenic disturbances (e.g., habitat fragmentation) will have an increasingly significant impact on ecosystems and broad-scale ecological processes.
One major role of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS; see map below) is the unique level of protection it provides to imperiled ecosystems. Wilderness areas are host to a relatively intact suite of broad-scale, long-term ecological and evolutionary processes. These areas are host to enormous biodiversity, provide critical ecosystem services, buffer against climate change, and serve as reference points to assess the health of ecosystems. Therefore, wilderness areas provide critical opportunities for conservation planning, but an updated, more detailed analysis of ecosystem representation is needed to address management decisions in a time of accelerating environmental change.
This project is using analyses from existing studies, combined with the development of new methods, to (1) highlight where specific ecotypes are underrepresented or missing from the current protected area network, (2) investigate how fragmentation of ecotypes on non-protected lands may have a major impact on the survivability of many species on protected lands, and (3) identify potential ecotypes for future protection.
This research is using finer-scale analysis than previously attempted, to show the following:
This foundational analysis will inform management of current agency land management portfolios, and can also be used to prioritize future designations. Specifically, this analysis will:
The outcomes of these analyses will be summarized and discussed in a peer-reviewed paper, which will be presented at National Wilderness Conference in October 2014.