Lawler, J.J., D. White, J.C. Sifenos, and L.L. Master. 2003. Rare species and the use of indicator groups for reserve selection. Conservation Biology 17(3)875-882. WED-02-020
Indicators of biodiversity have been proposed as a potential tool for selecting areas for conservation when information about species distributions is scarce. Although tests of the concept have produced varied results, sites selected to address indicator groups can include a high proportion of other species. We tested the hypothesis that species at risk of extinction are not likely to be included in sites selected to protect indicator groups. Using a reserve-selection approach, we compared the ability of seven indicator groups—freshwater fish, birds, mammals, freshwater mussels, reptiles, amphibians, and at-risk species of those six taxa—to provide protection for other species in general and at-risk species in particular in the Middle Atlantic region of the United States. Although sites selected with single taxonomic indicator groups provided protection for between 61% and 82% of all other species, no taxonomic group provided protection for more than 58% of all other at-risk species. The failure to cover at-risk species is likely linked to their rarity. By examining the relationship between a species' probability of coverage by each indicator group and the extent of its geographic range within the study area, we found that species with more restricted ranges were less likely to be protected than more widespread species. Furthermore, we found that although sites selected with indicator groups composed primarily of terrestrial species (birds and mammals) included relatively high percentages of those species (82-85%) they included smaller percentages of strictly aquatic species (27-55%). Finally, of both importance and possible utility, we found that at-risk species themselves performed well as an indicator group, covering an average of 84% of all other species.