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Biodiversity maps provide insights on Natura 2000 network in two Spanish regions

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Abstract

The Natura 2000 protected area network is one of the EU's flagship biodiversity conservation initiatives. This study compares the network in two autonomous communities in Spain against maps based on areas of importance for biodiversity. The researchers report that the current network aligns well with priority areas, but there are some opportunities for improved connectivity.
Environment
18th May 2022
Issue 580
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Source:
Rincón, V., Velázquez, J., Gutiérrez, J.,
Hernando, A., Khoroshev, A., Gómez,
I., Herráez, F., Sánchez, B., Luque,
J.P., García-abril, A., Santamaría,
T. and Sánchez-Mata, D. (2021)
Proposal of new Natura 2000
network boundaries in Spain based
on the value of importance for
biodiversity and connectivity analysis
for its improvement. Ecological
Indicators 129: 108024. Available
from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.
ecolind.2021.108024
Biodiversity maps provide insights on Natura 2000 network
in two Spanish regions
The Natura 2000 protected area network is one of the EU’s flagship biodiversity
conservation initiatives. This study compares the network in two autonomous communities
in Spain against maps based on areas of importance for biodiversity. The researchers report
that the current network aligns well with priority areas, but there are some opportunities for
improved connectivity.
SCIENCE FOR ENVIRONMENT POLICY
Natura 2000 is the world’s largest protected area network, covering 18.5% of the EU’s land area,
and 8.9% of its marine area, and including 26 935 sites. Its goal is to ensure the long-term survival
of threatened species and habitats. Connectivity within protected area networks has been shown
to play a key role in their effectiveness, as connections between natural areas improve genetic
variability in species populations, increase the capacity of ecosystems to recover from disturbance
and provide resilience against local extinctions. Analyses of connectivity can help to refine protected
area networks to maximise these effects.
This study focused on the autonomous communities (regions) of Andalucía and Castillia y León in
Spain. It worked from the National Biodiversity Inventory, which uses a grid made up of 10-kilometre
squares to record species presence across the country. Data were also drawn from the Corine
Land Cover inventory, public administrations’ cartographic information of the protected areas under
the EU’s Habitats Directive, and all the protected species from the Habitats and Birds Directives
and critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species from the National Catalogue of
Endangered Species, to produce a value of importance for biodiversity (VIB) score for every grid
square.
The VIB was calculated from a list of biodiversity criteria derived from these sources – such as
proportion of species in each taxonomic group (i.e. amphibians, mammals, birds, etc.) represented
in that square and the number of endangered and vulnerable species in each square. These criteria
were individually weighted according to an evaluation by a panel of experts and this data was then
used to produce a map of VIB for each region.
Environment
Biodiversity maps provide insights on Natura 2000 network
in two Spanish regions (continued)
SCIENCE FOR ENVIRONMENT POLICY
The researchers then used these maps to construct four different protected-area network
scenarios. They assigned all areas with a level of protection from one to four – with one being the
highest priority for protection and four being the lowest. This network-design process incorporated
land-use types, with urban and industrial areas being excluded and other land covers considered
independently. Most areas that had a VIB score in the top quartile (the highest 25% of values)
were designated as Level 1, those in the second quartile were mostly Level 2, and so forth.
The four network scenarios – from Level 1, which included only the highest priority areas, to Level
4, which included even the lowest priority areas – were evaluated alongside the existing Natura
2000 network in each region using two methods of connectivity analysis. The researchers used
a spatial pattern analysis to characterise the structure of the network – by classifying different
areas within the network according to their relationships with other nearby protected areas –
and assigning classes such as core (central protected area), bridge (corridor between core areas)
and edge (protected area boundary). They then used the probability of connectivity (PC) index
to evaluate the identified core and bridge areas (most relevant in this context) in terms of their
importance in maintaining links across the whole network.
Using 2019 data from the National Catalogue of Endangered Species, the researchers report
that there is a high level of overlap between the areas of high biodiversity value and the existing
Natura 2000 network in the studied regions, indicating that the current network is close to optimal
(although some lower VIB areas are included in the network while some high VIB areas are not).
The spatial pattern analysis for the Level 1 network scenario shows that it has a high level of core
zones and corridors, which are critical for connectivity, and may indicate potential for enhancing
the connectivity of the existing Natura 2000 network, say the researchers. The probability of
connectivity analysis also shows the Level 1 scenario to be a slight improvement in connectivity
over the current Natura 2000 network, according to the researchers, partly due to the presence of
core areas that also serve a connectivity function.
The researchers propose that this methodology could be used by Member States to optimise and
align their Natura 2000 networks. They argue that it assists in maximising connectivity within
protected area networks by cataloguing high-priority core areas and corridors. In this way, say
the researchers, this study supports appropriate land management across the EU and compliance
with environmental policy.
Contact:
virincon@ucm.es
Read more about:
Biodiversity, Land use,
Natural Capital
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note that this article is a summary
of only one study. Other studies
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