The Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development, in collaboration with the Whitney R. Harris Center for World Ecology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has established an Analysis Unit, which uses biological data to address questions central to the practice of conserving biodiversity. With ready access to one of the world’s major plant collections at the Missouri Botanical Garden, as well as to associated researchers with ample botanical knowledge, the Analysis Unit is uniquely placed to conduct the biological research that is fundamental to sound conservation. Using modern analytic tools, the Analysis Unit models the geographic distribution of different species and identifies regions that contain high plant diversity, particularly regions that sustain high numbers of plant species with narrow geographic distributions.

To spur formulation of the testable hypotheses that guide their data analyses, CCSD scientists have developed questions centered on topics at the interface of ecology, evolution, and biogeography, such as the following:

  • Identifying areas of high plant diversity: Understanding the factors that govern spatial patterns of species richness is central to identifying priority areas for conservation. Yet descriptions of such patterns are dependent on distribution maps, which are commonly affected by biases inherent in biodiversity data. CCSD is using several analytical tools to distinguish taxa whose distribution appears restricted as a result of poor collection effort from taxa that are truly narrowly distributed.

  • Evaluating the processes that contribute to biodiversity patterns: To achieve conservation of biodiversity, conservationists must take account of the processes that determine the extinction and production of species. Thus, the selection of priority areas for conservation should be informed by the study of such processes. CCSD is using data from selected plant groups to test predictions derived from hypotheses about the origin and maintenance of biodiversity.

  • Determining the optimal size of reserve networks: Identification of reserve networks for conservation typically focuses on minimizing the total area needed to represent a given number of taxa. CCSD is testing the effects of three variables on the area needed for reserve networks that will maximize protection of biological diversity: 1) the number of targeted species, 2) the size of selection units, and 3) the endemism of the targeted species.

  • Using occupancy and abundance estimates to identify reserve networks:
  • Reserve networks are often identified using only occurrence data and thus are likely to include populations with low probability of persistence. CCSD is using data on abundance and occupancy (the proportion of sites occupied across a region within the geographic range) to identify reserve networks that are resilient against temporal species turnover.


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Director, CCSD, Missouri Botanical Garden, P.O. Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166 Phone: (314) 577-0871 © 2014