Given the alarming rates of biodiversity loss, conservation policies are being developed at various scales and within a range of institutional and legal frameworks. Selection and prioritization of areas, that is, biotopes is the most important stage for conservation planning, on a regional (or higher) scale. Species-based approaches include the identification of biotopes that are characterized by high levels of species richness (richness hot spots) or high concentrations of endemic, restricted-range or red-listed species (endemic hot spots, rarity hot spots, and threat spots, respectively). The principle of complementarity is used to identify the minimum number of biotopes in which all species (or higher taxa) of a geographic region can be conserved. However, long-term maintenance of biodiversity within conservation areas can be achieved conserving both the biodiversity patterns and the natural processes that sustain those patterns. Ecosystem-oriented strategies aim at protecting the range of ecological conditions found in a region of concern, using criteria such as species richness, endemism, and uniqueness, as well as elements of the abiotic environment, ecosystem processes, disturbance regimes, and succession stages. Ecosystem approaches emphasize on protecting most species within conservation areas that are representative of natural or seminatural biotopes of a geographic region.
The biotope or habitat-type approach that focuses on selection of conservation areas using criteria such as representativeness of vegetation types and high plant and animal species richness is supposed to optimize ecological functions. Conservation planning should define a hierarchy in conservation objectives that generates nested protection levels, necessary for the maintenance of the stability of the ecological landscape as a functional entity. The landscape approach, where the landscape is understood to be a product of the combination of biotope attributes and human activities in a historical time frame, takes into consideration not only ecological but also socioeconomic and esthetic functions. Ideally, the integration of these approaches should incorporate dynamic aspects such as fluxes of organisms, energy, and nutrients. Such a holistic conservation planning strategy will inevitably focus on the maintenance of the functional relation between conservation areas through a spatial system of functionally interconnected elements, that is, an ecological network.
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