FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A first-of-its kind computerized map showing the ranges of threatened bird species in Latin America may help save these birds from extinction.
University of Arkansas researchers Kimberly Smith, professor of biological sciences, former research associate Tom Brooks, now director of biodiversity analysis for Conservation International, and Fred Limp, professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST), have created a computer map on CD-Rom that is available to conservation groups, non-governmental organizations, research professors and governments for use in making conservation-based decisions about land use practices, which can include national parks and preserves, urban sprawl, farming, logging and industrial development.
The CD-Rom will be available with instructions in Spanish, Portuguese and English.
"This map gives people an opportunity to look at both the global and local concerns," Brooks said. "Conservation groups need to know where their efforts will have the greatest effect. The map will help tell them this."
The computerized map includes the ranges of 1,300 bird species considered at risk in Mexico, Central and South America, Smith said. It also includes a human population distribution map, which can be combined with the first one in an overlay scheme, so people can see how the two interact geographically. Another map shows the distribution of national parks and nature preserves within a country in relation to its endangered bird populations.
"You have to bring in the social, political and economic factors that affect conservation on the ground," Brooks said. Researchers can see, for instance, if the endangered birds’ ranges lie within national parks or preserves, or in areas with lots of development. Conservation of rare birds is often complex, Smith said, because the human factor must also be considered when determining land use.
Areas with large numbers of at-risk birds include the southern part of coastal Brazil and the backbone of the Andes. But conservationists must consider other factors besides high numbers of endangered birds in a given area, Brooks said. The same bird species endangered within its range in one country may have healthy populations in another country.
Brooks used a computerized "complementarity technique" to rank regions in order of conservation importance. The area with the greatest variety of at-risk birds gets top priority. The next spot selected contains the greatest number of at-risk species not already included in the top priority area. The complementarity process was used both for each country and for the continent overall.
This information will help people make informed decisions about everything from placement of new national parks and preserves to where to allow logging and other industrial development, Brooks said.
The researchers reported to a committee of avian experts from the National Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia, the Natural History Museum of London, Point Reyes Bird Observatory in California, BirdLife International in Cambridge, England, the Chicago Field Museum, the University of Kansas, the University of Missouri at St. Louis, University of Tennessee and Latin American bird experts.
The research is part of a Nature Conservancy program, Wings of the Americas, made possible by Canon U.S.A. Inc. The Wings of the Americas program protects at risk birds by taking a long-term, comprehensive approach to protecting critical bird habitat.
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