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Suitability for conservation as a criterion in regional conservation network selection

Humphries, Hope C., Bourgeron, Patrick S., Reynolds, Keith M.
Biodiversity and conservation 2008 v.17 no.3 pp. 467
conservation areas, decision support systems, decision making, fuzzy logic, habitat conservation, vegetation cover, vegetation types, cost analysis, Washington, Oregon
The process of selecting candidate areas for inclusion in a regional conservation network should include not only delineating appropriate land units for selection and defining targets for representing features of interest, but also determining the suitability of land units for conservation purposes. We developed an explicit rating of conservation suitability by applying fuzzy-logic functions in a knowledge base to ecological condition and socio-economic attributes of land units in the interior Columbia River basin, USA. Suitability was converted to unsuitability to comprise a cost criterion in selecting regional conservation networks. When unsuitability was the sole cost criterion or was combined with land area as cost, only about one-third of the area selected was rated suitable, due to inclusion of unsuitable land to achieve representation of conservation targets (vegetation cover-type area). Selecting only from land units rated suitable produced networks that were 100% suitable, reasonably efficient, and most likely to be viable and defensible, as represented in our knowledge-based system. However, several conservation targets were not represented in these networks. The tradeoff between suitability and effectiveness in representing targets suggests that a multi-stage process should be implemented to address both attributes of candidate conservation networks. The suitability of existing conservation areas was greater than that of most alternative candidate networks, but 59% of land units containing conservation areas received a rating of unsuitable, due in part to the presence of units only partially occupied by conservation areas, in which unsuitability derived from conditions in non-conserved areas.