Where Should Nature Reserves Be Located in South Africa? A Snake's Perspective

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The present dispersion of nature reserves in South Africa is the historical result of a series of ad hoc decisions and may not be biologically optimal We have adopted a method to identify the optimal geography of nature reserves for the conservation of South Africa's snake fauna. The method of reserve selection operated on two tiers, and the spatial unit of analysis was a quarter‐degree‐square cell (∼625 km2). First, two scoring indices were used to rank cells with respect to species richness or to rarity. Second, two different iterative reserve‐selection algorithms selected sets of cells (reserves), where each set represented all snake species at least once. Finally, the selected cells were examined for their present level of protection and their ranked scores. Depending on the algorithm chosen, only 23 or 29 cells were required to represent all species at least once; 72–78% of these cells already contained some level of protection; 59–70% of cells fell in areas of high species richness; and 72–91% of cells fell in areas with high rarity scores. Thus we conclude that most of the snake species in South Africa may be adequately protected with only modest acquisition of new reserves, and that the iterative algorithms appear to be efficient at siting cells in areas of high richness and rarity. We recommend that the reserve placement method outlined in this report be applied to as many other taxa as possible in the formulation of a national plan for an optimal reserve system for South Africa. Copyright © 1995, Wiley Blackwell. All rights reserved

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Conservation Biology