Evaluating the Use of Surrogates of Marine Mammal Species Representation in Biodiversity Conservation Planning

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Biodiversity is required to guarantee proper ecosystem structure and function. However, increasing anthropogenic threats are causing biodiversity loss around the world at an unprecedented rate, in what has been deemed

Biodiversity is required to guarantee proper ecosystem structure and function. However, increasing anthropogenic threats are causing biodiversity loss around the world at an unprecedented rate, in what has been deemed the sixth mass extinction. To counteract this crisis, conservationists seek to improve the methods used in the design and implementation of protected areas, which help mitigate the impacts of human activities on species. Marine mammals are ecosystem engineers and important indicator species of ocean and human wellbeing. They are also disproportionally less known and more threatened than terrestrial mammals. Therefore, surrogates of biodiversity must be used to maximize their representation in conservation planning. Some of the most effective surrogates of biodiversity known have only been tested in terrestrial systems. Here I test complementarity, rarity, and environmental diversity as potential surrogates of marine mammal representation at the global scale, and compare their performance against species richness, which is the most popular surrogate used to date. I also present the first map of marine mammal complementarity, and assess its relationship with environmental variables to determine if environmental factors could also be used as surrogates. Lastly, I determine the global complementarity-based hotspots of marine mammal biodiversity, and compare their distributions against current marine protected area coverage and exposure to global indices of human threats, to elucidate the effectiveness of current conservation efforts. Results show that complementarity, rarity, and environmental diversity are all efficient surrogates, as they outcompete species richness in maximizing marine mammal species representation when solving the minimum-set coverage problem. Results also show that sea surface temperature, density, and bathymetry are the top environmental variables most associated with complementarity of marine mammals. Finally, gap analyses show that marine mammals are overall poorly protected, yet moderately exposed to hotspots of cumulative human impacts. The wide distribution of marine mammals justify global studies like the ones here presented, to determine the best strategy for their protection. Overall, my findings show that less popular surrogates of biodiversity are more effective for marine mammals and should be considered in their management, and that the expansion of protected areas in their most important habitats should be prioritized.