Current conservation strategies for plant and animal species rarely address the need to protect the species throughout its geographic range thereby capturing potential genetic and ecological variation. We examined the degree that existing protected areas in the western United States satisfied this goal for four widespread vegetation cover types. We used latitude and longitude to stratify the distribution of these types into 16 cells, each of which was further stratified by up to five elevation classes. While protection of some vegetation types was high in parts of their range, it was minimal to nonexistent in other parts. While it is yet to be shown that protecting a given species throughout its geographic range is essential for its long-term existence, in the face of often unpredictable environmental changes, it seems a prudent course to follow. Our results suggest that if full range protection is a conservation goal, the existing network of protected areas may be inadequate for the task.
Additional publication details
Representation of natural vegetation in protected areas: Capturing the geographic range