Brito JC , Tarroso P, Vale CG, Martínez-Freiría F, Boratyński Z, Campos JC, Ferreira S, Godinho R, Gonçalves DV, Leite JV, Lima VO, Pereira P, Santos X, Ferreira da Silva MJ, Silva TL, Velo-Antón G, Veríssimo J, Crochet P-A, Pleguezuelos JM, Carvalho SB


Identification of priority conservation areas and evaluation of coverage of the current protected areas are urgently needed to halt biodiversity loss. Identifying regions combining similar environmental traits (climate regions) and species assemblages (biogroups) is needed for conserving biodiversity patterns and processes. We identify climate regions and biogroups and map species diversity across the Sahara-Sahel, a large geographic area that exhibits wide environmental heterogeneity and multiple species-groups with distinct biogeographical affinities, and evaluate the coverage level of current network of protected areas for biodiversity conservation. We use spatially explicit climate data with principal component analysis and model-based clustering techniques to identify climate regions. We use distributions of 1,147 terrestrial vertebrates (and of 125 Sahara-Sahel endemics) and apply distance clustering methods to identify biogroups for both species groups. We apply reserve selection algorithms targeting 17% of species distribution, climate regions, and biogroups to identify priority areas, and gap analysis to assess their representation within current protected areas. Seven climate regions were identified, mostly arranged as latitudinal belts. Concentrations of high species richness were found in the Sahel but the Central Sahara gathers most endemic and threatened species. Ten biogroups (five for endemics) were identified. Wide-range biogroups tend to overlap in specific climate regions. Identified priority areas are inadequately represented in protected areas and six new top-conservation areas are needed to achieve conservation targets. Biodiversity distribution in Sahara-Sahel is spatially structured and apparently related to environmental variation. Although the majority of priority conservation areas are located outside areas of intense human activities, many cross multiple political borders and require internationally coordinated efforts for implementation and management. Optimised biodiversity conservation solutions at regional scale are needed. Our work contradicts the general idea that deserts are uniform areas and provides options for the conservation of endangered species.


Journal: Diversity and Distributions

DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12416