As a global prioritization system, hotspots are extremely important in informing the flow of conservation resources. However, they do not provide guidance as to how conservation should be focused on the ground. This requires a distinct, regional-scale planning process. At Conservation International (CI), this planning process is known as establishing targets for conservation outcomes. We define conservation outcomes at three scales of ecological organization: threatened species (where we strive for "Extinctions Avoided" outcomes); Key Biodiversity Areas (where the targets are "Areas Protected" outcomes); and landscapes (where we aim for "Corridors Consolidated" outcomes).
Targets for Conservation on the Ground
Protected Area Coverage in the Hotspots
CI Efforts in the Hotspots
Some species are threatened by species-specific threats such as hunting, direct exploitation, disease, and predation by invasive species. Conservation responses to these threats will have to be implemented one species at a time, and will likely involve incentives and legislation to reduce hunting pressure, control of invasive species, and captive breeding, propagation, and re-introduction. However, such intensive conservation tactics are expensive, and so it will not be possible to conserve all threatened species one-by-one.
Fortunately, however, we do not have to. Most threatened species are primarily threatened by the degradation and destruction of the places where they live. The primary response to the biodiversity crisis must therefore be the establishment and effective management of protected areas. Conservation action in the coming years must focus on ensuring the long-term persistence of these protected areas, while at the same time adding new parks and reserves in the highest priority portions of unprotected intact habitat.
Establishing protected areas that remain resilient is a further challenge. Climate change forces species to shift their ranges according to alteration in their preferred habitat conditions, but this movement may be difficult or impossible in heavily fragmented landscapes. Further, the rate and magnitude of current climate change is such that many species may be unable to disperse quickly enough. Protection is therefore also needed where species will be in the future. We must also focus on restoring degraded habitats to provide increased connectivity (to decrease fragmentation).
Conservation success depends on working effectively with people. Many residents of the Earth's most biodiverse places are extremely poor, living on less than a dollar a day. In addition, a large portion of the sites with remaining biodiversity is made up of traditional lands of indigenous peoples. Living resources have a unique place in indigenous cultures, and are also singular from a biological conservation perspective. Therefore, species loss represents not only a loss of global biodiversity, but of cultural heritage as well. In short, many people and many species share a common vulnerability and struggle for survival.
How much might it cost to complete the protected area system in order to conserve biodiversity across the hotspots? Recent estimates have suggested that investment of as much as US$160 million per hotspot per year may be necessary to cover management of unprotected key biodiversity areas and to close shortfalls in existing protected area budgets. However, variation among the funding needs for hotspots is considerable, as much as 100 times greater in higher than in lower income countries.
While conservation in the hotspots is complex, expensive, and difficult, it is not optional. We utterly reject a triage approach of abandoning the hotspots to focus on less biodiverse, less threatened areas, where conservation is comparatively easier. Instead, we see the successes of the last fifteen years as a rallying cry for a tenfold increase in conservation attention. Nothing less than the diversity of life on Earth hangs in the balance.