Prioritisation of conservation areas in the Western Ghats, India.
Areas of high conservation value were identified in the Western Ghats using a systematic conservation planning approach. Surrogates were chosen and assessed for effectiveness on the basis of spatial congruence using Pearson’s correlations and Mantel’s tests. The surrogates were, threatened and endemic plant and vertebrate species, unfragmented forest areas, dry forests, sub-regionally rare vegetation types, and a remotely sensed surrogate for unique evergreen ecosystems. At the scale of this analysis, amphibian richness was most highly correlated with overall threatened and endemic species richness, whereas mammals, especially wide-ranging species, were better at capturing overall animal and habitat diversity. There was a significant relationship between a remote sensing based habitat surrogate and endemic tree diversity and composition. None of the taxa or habitats served as a complete surrogate for the others. Sites were prioritised on the basis of their irreplaceability value using all five surrogates. Two alternative reserve networks are presented, one with minimal representation of surrogates, and the second with 3 occurrences of each species and 25% of each habitat type. These networks cover 8% and 29% of the region respectively. Seventy percent of the completely irreplaceable sites are outside the current protected area network. While the existing protected area network meets the minimal representation target for 88% of the species chosen in this study and all of the habitat surrogates, it is not representative with regard to amphibians, endemic tree species and small mammals. Much of the prioritised unprotected area is under reserve forests and can thus be incorporated into a wider network of conservation areas.