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SCALETOOL IntroductionDriversBiodiversityPolicies and managementConnectivity and protected areas

Case-Study National Responsibilities in Asia

As stated in the Convention of Biological Diversity, reducing a loss of biodiversity involves identifying and monitoring components of biological diversity to ensure its conservation in each contractual party. Various methods have been adopted in different species lists of global conservation priorities, e.g., The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red Lists (Fig. 1) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) appendices. The IUCN categories and criteria for evaluating extinction risk, originally intended for use at the global level, are increasingly being used at the national level. Moreover, red lists explain the complex phenomenon "endangerment" in a simple way, one of the reasons why red lists are a widely used tool for conservation assessment. However, the endangerment status as indicated by the IUCN Red List and the appendices of CITES does not always reflect conservation needs and is occasionally inadequate for setting conservation priorities for different political jurisdictions. Therefore, the concept of national responsibility was developed as a complementary tool for determining conservation priorities. These methods of assessing national responsibility are still under development and must be standardised before becoming too diversified to be compatible among countries and regions. Therefore, it is essential to develop methods to achieve conservation priority setting based on easily quantifiable biological information at different spatial scales and without having to apply complex weighting systems.

Different parts of a species distribution range contribute differently to its overall viability and persistence. The national responsibility concept (Fig. 2) focuses on the importance of a local population for the global survival probability of a species. Determining the national responsibility concept involves creating hierarchical lists. Such a hierarchical list of responsibility is highly relevant for regions of the world with multiple political jurisdictions, state unions, and nations with regional governmental structures. A previous study attempted to determine the international importance of local populations, i.e. the importance of localised populations to the global survival of a species, by using several range-based criteria (e.g., proportional distribution, relative abundance, or location of the distribution centre) to evaluate national responsibility. The European practice of evaluating national conservation responsibility is more advanced than in other regions because of the wide availability of distribution data and early development of methodology. In Taiwan and other Asian countries, following decades of accumulating data of species distribution range and population trends, the national responsibility for species can now be evaluated.

Figure 1: IUCN Red List (IUCN 2001)

Figure 2: Decision tree to identify national responsibility in species conservation.

The methods to determine national responsibility and conservation priorities in Europe include those that prioritise the notion of international importance of a region to ensure the global survival of a species. All methods assume not only that proportional distribution can serve as a proxy for relative abundance of species, but also that relative abundance serves as a proxy for relative importance to species viability. Although the latter assumption (i.e. abundance represents viability) usually holds true, the former assumption (i.e. distribution represents abundance) does not hold true invariably. Some assessments almost exclusively use proportional distribution in the evaluated area relative to a reference area as the criteria of determining conservation priorities. The Species of European Conservation Concern (SPEC) method for birds or butterflies evaluates the European relative to the global distribution. Other methods focus on single nations or even subnational levels and apply global, European, or national distribution as reference areas.

Taiwan currently has 3,005 protected species. Most of those species are not naturally distributed in Taiwan, but are protected because they are listed in the CITES appendices. The 208 protected species native to Taiwan consist of 17 mammal, 116 bird, 31 reptiles, 11 amphibian, 10 fish, and 23 insect species. We here determined national responsibilities (NR) for 1,127 bird species and 331 amphibian species in both Taiwan and China using a newly developed GIS-tool.

Among the 1,127 bird species assessed in Taiwan and China, most were widely distributed, and their average global distribution range was 7,864,613 km2. Only 24 species were distributed only in one biome (for an overview of biomes, see Fig. 3), while 92% of the bird species (1,038 species) were distributed in more than four biomes (Fig. 4). The 331 amphibian species assessed had a smaller global distribution range (530,708 km2), and only 6.4% of the average global distribution range of the 1,127 bird species. About one third of the amphibian species (109 species) were distributed in one biome, while only 89 species were distributed in more than four biomes (Fig. 5).

Figure 3: Global map of Biomes

Figure 4: Number of bird species per distribution pattern (1 = local endemic; 2-3 = regional; >3 = wide). Most of the bird species distributed over more than three biomes   Figure 5: Most of the amphibian species distributed only in one biome

Consequently, 24 bird species were classified as 'local' (i.e. distributed in only one biome, ex. Fig. 3a); 65 species were 'regional' (i.e. distributed in two or three biomes); and 1,038 species were 'wide' (i.e. distributed in four or more biomes). These results were visualised exemplarily in Fig. 6. In amphibian species, 109 amphibian species were classified as 'local', 137 species were classified as 'regional' and 89 species were 'wide' for their distribution pattern.

Figure 6: Global distributions of (a) Formosan Green Pigeon (local), (b) Cinnamon Bittern (regional), (c) Gray Heron (wide)

According to our assessment results, 18 bird species of Taiwan had a "very high" national responsibility (NR); for 7 species Taiwan had a "high" NR; for 198 species a "medium" NR; and for 150 species had a "basic" NR (Fig. 7). Proportionally more amphibian species received a very high NR as compared to bird species (Fig. 8) both in Taiwan and in China (Figs. 7-10).

Figure 7: National responsibility assessments of the 373 bird species of Taiwan   Figure 8: National responsibility assessments of the 33 amphibian species of Taiwan

Figure 9: National responsibility assessments of the 907 bird species of China   Figure 10: National responsibility assessments of the 285 amphibian species of China

An effective approach to assess national responsibilities and to determine conservation priorities would allow direct comparisons between various scales such as provinces, countries, regions, and even continents. The methodology to determine national responsibilities has a unique potential to set, in combination with existing systems of endangerment, such as Red Lists, conservation priorities. The national responsibility method can prioritise the national responsibility for conserving focal species quickly and easily and scientifically soundly, based on distribution range data of the focal region, focal species, and Biome. However, given its simplicity, this national responsibility method is also highly sensitive to species range size. Moreover, regional responsibility does not suffice on its own since endemic species may not be rare within a particular region and thus not an urgent priority for local decision makers. The IUCN red lists may be a suboptimal approach for setting conservation priorities in a country or region since the threat status does not accurately reflect conservation needs. Therefore, it is also necessary that such a method should be (a) applicable at different spatial scales and (b) based on a small number of criteria which can be combined into a simple scoring scheme without having to apply complex weighting systems.

The proposed method can also determine conservation responsibilities for species worldwide. In following the method of Schmeller et al., the proposed method and its approaches can determine national responsibilities by assessing spatial distributions of focal species and the IUCN Red categories. While considering spatial distributions of focal species, the proposed method takes the IUCN Red List into account for assessing and calculating conservation priorities and conservation classes of focal area such as countries worldwide. Therefore, in addition to enhancing the limitation of showing spatial information of the national responsibility and the IUCN methods, the proposed method with its GIS version also has the advantages of the original national responsibility and the IUCN Red List for international and national biodiversity conservation decisions.


Henle K., B. Bauch, M. Auliya, M. K├╝lvik, G. Pe'er, D.S. Schmeller, E. Framstad. 2013. Priorities for biodiversity monitoring in Europe: A review of supranational policies and a novel scheme for integrative prioritization. Ecological Indicators 33:5-18. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2013.03.028

Schmeller D.S., B. Gruber, E. Budrys, E. Framsted, S. Lengyel, K. Henle. 2008a. National responsibilities in European species conservation: a methodological review. Conservation Biology 22:593-601.

Schmeller D.S. , B. Gruber, B. Bauch, K. Lanno, E. Budrys, V. Babij, R. Jukaitis, M. Sammul, Z. Varga., K. Henle. 2008b. Determination of national conservation responsibilities for species conservation in regions with multiple political jurisdictions. Biodiversity and Conservation 17:3607-3622.

Schmeller D.S., A. Maier, B. Bauch, D. Evans, K. Henle. 2012. National responsibilities for conserving habitats - a freely scalable method. Nature Conservation 3:21-44.

Schmeller D.S., D. Evans, Y.-P. Lin, K. Henle. 2014 (in press) The national responsibility approach to setting conservation priorities - recommendations for its use. Journal for Nature Conservation
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