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SCALETOOL IntroductionDriversBiodiversityPolicies and managementConnectivity and protected areas

Determining responsibilities to prioritize conservation actions across scales

Responsibilities for conservation actions of species do not exclusively depend on their status in the red list but also on the proportion of the whole distribution area that a country covers. To simplify these processes, a GIS tool was invented.

Limited resources and conservation actions

Conservation actions, such as biodiversity monitoring, wildlife disease monitoring, capacity building or the evaluation and improvement of the effectiveness of current conservation networks in protecting biodiversity, could largely benefit from intelligible resource allocation. The national responsibility approach helps to identify biodiversity data gaps and therefore has the potential to guide capacity building efforts.

The national responsibility method

The method to determine national responsibilities (Schmeller 2008a,b,c, 2012) comprises three decision steps (Figure 1). Firstly, the assessment unit is defined based on the underlying concepts and definitions chosen by the user; secondly, the current distribution pattern of a species or habitat is determined, meaning its range within and across biogeographic and environmental regions as an approximation of its adaptability to different environmental conditions. The third step determines the importance of the distribution of the defined assessment unit within a focal area as compared to the total distribution in a reference area, determining the expected and observed distribution and allowing geographic scaling. The distribution pattern and the expected value of occurrence together reflect the importance of a focal area for the global persistence of the defined assessment unit.

Figure 1: The three steps of the national responsibility approach from Schmeller et al. 2008b.

While the data needs of the method are not very high, several difficulties were recently described which could hamper the application to biodiversity in general (Schmeller et al. 2014 (in press)). Most of these difficulties arise from the lack of agreed data standards and harmonization during the collection and processing of biodiversity data, but might be overcome quickly by different projects and initiatives building regional and global biodiversity observation networks. Therefore, the determination of conservation responsibilities should be feasible and can already be done for all species for which distribution data is available via the IUCN database, which currently covers more than 70,000 species. To facilitate the task, a GIS module has been developed for both ARC-GIS and QGIS software, to automate the determination of conservation responsibilities.

The GIS-tool to determine conservation responsibilities

The National Responsibility Tool (NRT) uses a GIS-based approach to determine the international importance of a species distribution area in a focal area (Schmeller et al. 2008a,b; 2012). The assessment is based on the bioclimatic map developed by Metzger et al. (2013). As input data, the NRT requires a map of the global distribution of the species, habitat or ecosystem, a map of the reference area, and a map of the focal area, usually country borders, in the widely used shapefile format (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Interface of the National Responsibility Tool (NRT).

The NRT ranks the species according to the conservation responsibilities it calculates and allows the results to be displayed as vector maps with a table of the results on a GIS platform, which can either be ARC-GIS (ESRI) or QGIS (open source) (Figure 3). The NRT can also combine the conservation responsibility rank with the IUCN Red List status. These complementary assessments would allow determining the conservation priorities of species by nations or other focal areas.

Figure 3: Examples of the output of the National Responsibility Tool for two Asian bird species. (A) National Responsibility and (B) Conservation Priority for the Fairy Pitta (Pitta brachyura), (C) National Responsibility and (D) Conservation Priority for the Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida).

Policy relevance

With the necessary data at hand, the national responsibility approach can be used:
  • to determine which species and habitats to monitor more closely in regard to different threats,
  • to focus budgets on species and habitats where countries have high to very high responsibilities, and
  • to help attribute monitoring budgets to poorer countries that have high responsibility for many species or habitats, but insufficient resources to closely monitor them.

In summary, urgent actions to render the determination of national responsibilities useful are:

  • the development of clear data standards,
  • regular assessments of data to take in consideration advances in data computation and new revisions of data standards, and
  • data downscaling to a higher resolution to reduce the impact of bias to a negligible level and to improve the overall improvement of the quality of distribution data for conservation purposes.
A global solution is required to facilitate globally acting processes and initiatives such as IPBES, the CBD, and GEO BON.


The development of NRT was supported by the ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan to Yu-Pin Lin under Contract No. NSC 101-2923-I-002-001-MY2. This work was also supported by a EU/FP7 grant N° 226852 (SCALES). Douglas Evans is funded by the European Environment Agency as part of its contract with the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity.


IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: version 3.1. Gland, Switzerland - Cambridge, UK, pp.

Metzger MJ, Brus DJ, Bunce RGH, Carey PD, Goncalves J, Honrado JP, Jongman RHG, Trabucco A, Zomer R (2013) Environmental stratifications as the basis for national, European and global ecological monitoring. Ecological Indicators 33: 26-35. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2012.11.009

Schmeller DS, Bauch B, Gruber B, Juskaitis R, Budrys E, Babij V, Lanno K, Sammul M, Varga Z, Henle K (2008a) Determination of conservation priorities in regions with multiple political jurisdictions. Biodiversity and Conservation 17: 3623-3630

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

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

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

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

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