Since conservation practitioners do not have enough funds to conserve all places and all species, they must prioritise where to put their limited resources to work. Setting these priorities requires information about the distribution of species and ecosystems, however our knowledge of earths biodiversity is poor, with approximately 86% of land species and 91% of marine species still undiscovered.
To overcome this lack of knowledge, conservation practitioners often use the species which they do have information on as surrogates for other species, with the aim being that conserving surrogate species also acts to conserve other species. One example of a surrogacy-based conservation is the Landscape Species Approach, which was developed by the Wildlife Conservation Society. This approach selects and uses a suite of ‘landscape species’ as surrogates. These include, for example, the chimpanzee, African elephant and the giant forest hog. Despite being used in many countries across four continents, the effectiveness of landscape species as surrogates has never been tested.
Our research tested the Landscape Species Approach, by setting conservation priorities using landscape species, and using various alternative sets of species, and comparing the location and cost of these priorities. We assumed that if the priorities for landscape species were similar to other sets of species, then landscape species were good surrogates for other species.
We discovered that prioritising for landscape species adequately conserved 35% of species, while prioritising for endemic or threatened species conserved 73% and 69% respectively. We also found that on average, prioritising for a randomly selected group of species conserved 56% of species. From this finding we recommended that WCS supplement the Landscape Species Approach with other, more robust conservation planning approaches.