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ecosystems that are either unrepresented or not adequately represented? All these considerations and unanswered questions in conservation biology do not obviate the need for gap analyses in all regions and countries, however, because inevitably we must have a good information base on which to base better conservation decisions.
Gap analysis exercises similar to the one for Australia mentioned above have been undertaken in other countries. In Chapter 29, Huntley describes progress to date in several countries of southern Africa. A somewhat similar process is also being used to identify global priorities in plant conservation, as described by Williams and Lucas in Chapters 28 and 30, respectively.
In the United States, no such countrywide analysis of ecosystems exists, except for several very preliminary studies using coarse classifications of ecoregions and the most general vegetation types. The federal agencies have never agreed on the methods to be used, but a nongovernmental organization, The Nature Conservancy, has made the most thorough state-by-state investigations using several vegetation classifications and all the species distribution data available. By developing a standardized methodology for all the states, the Conservancy is now able to make regional and preliminary national assessments of the most important gaps in ecosystem and species coverage, thereby establishing conservation priorities in a more systematic fashion than was previously possible. Chapter 27 by Jenkins describes this effort further.
On the global scale, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund have worked over the past decade to identify major conservation priorities. A biogeographic classification developed by Dasmann, Udvardy, and others was used to determine which major biomes and biogeographic provinces worldwide are relatively well represented in the global system of protected areas and where there are major gaps in the system (Udvardy, 1975). The analysis itself does not take into account the quality or level of management (and therefore the degree and quality of protection) of the conservation areas, but it has been useful to IUCN and others in helping to determine the allocation of program funds and to design conservation activities on a global scale and in particular regions. IUCN is carrying this global analysis further, and its Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas is coordinating a series of regional analyses to identify high-priority ecosystems and to recommend the establishment of additional protected areas (MacKinnon and MacKinnon, 1987).
The next step in refining this process, however, is to do essentially the same type of analysis at the country and local levels. This is already under way in several Latin American countries. The Conservation Data Center (CDC) in Lima, Peru, for example, recently analyzed gaps in ecosystem coverage by overlaying biogeographic provinces, life zones, selected vegetation types, and existing and planned conservation areas. Although biologists in Peru have known for some time that the Andean cloud forests and coastal vegetation types were being decimated by human impacts and were important ecosystems to be conserved, the gap analysis done by the CDC revealed these priorities in a much more systematic, quantified way and identified particular areas that should be put under some form of protective management.