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Quantifying Plant Population Persistence in Human-Dominated Landscapes

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We assessed population performance of rare plants across a gradient from rural to urban landscapes and evaluated 2 hypotheses central to strategic conservation planning: (1) population performance declines with increasing human dominance and (2) small populations perform poorly relative to larger ones. Assessing these hypotheses is critical to strategic conservation planning. The current conservation paradigm adheres to the well-established ecology theory that small isolated populations, particularly those in human-dominated landscapes, are the least likely to succeed over the long term. Consequently, conservation planning has strongly favored large, remote targets for protection. This shift in conservation toward ecosystem-based programs and protection of populations within large, remote systems has been at the expense of protection of the rarest of the rare species, the dominant paradigm for conservation driven by the endangered species act. Yet, avoiding conservation of small populations appears to be based more on theoretical understanding and expert opinion than empiricism. We used Natural Heritage data from California in an assessment of population performance of rare plants across a landscape with an urban-rural gradient. Population performance did not decrease in urban settings or for populations that were initially small. Our results are consistent with a pattern of few species extinctions within these landscapes over the past several decades. We conclude that these populations within compromised landscapes can contribute to overall biodiversity conservation. We further argue that conservation planning for biodiversity preservation should allocate relatively more resources to protecting urban-associated plant taxa because they may provide conservation benefit beyond simply protecting isolated populations; they may be useful in building social interest in conservation.
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Keywords: Base de Datos de la Diversidad Natural de California; California Natural Diversity Database; conservación de plantas; crecimiento de la población; endangered species; especies en peligro; paisajes urbanos; plant conservation; population growth; urban landscapes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Ecology Graduate Group, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, U.S.A. 2: Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, U.S.A.

Publication date: August 1, 2008

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