Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology | 5 Dec 2014
AE Camaclang, M Maron, TG Martin and HP Possingham
The term critical habitat is used to describe the subset of habitat that is essential to the survival and recovery of species. Some countries legally require that critical habitat of listed threatened and endangered species be identified and protected. However, there is little evidence to suggest that the identification of critical habitat has had much impact on species recovery. We hypothesized that this may be due at least partly to a mismatch between the intent of critical habitat identification, which is to protect sufficient habitat for species persistence and recovery, and its practice. We used content analysis to systematically review critical habitat documents from the United States, Canada, and Australia. In particular, we identified the major trends in type of information used to identify critical habitat and in occupancy of habitat identified as critical. Information about population viability was used to identify critical habitat for only 1% of the species reviewed, and for most species, designated critical habitat did not include unoccupied habitat. Without reference to population viability, it is difficult to determine how much of a species' occupied and unoccupied habitat will be required for persistence. We therefore conclude that the identification of critical habitat remains inconsistent with the goal of protecting sufficient habitat to support persistence and recovery of the species. Ensuring that critical habitat identification aligns more closely with its intent will improve the accuracy of the designations and may therefore help improve the benefits to species recovery when combined with adequate implementation and enforcement of legal protections.
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