, Volume 14, Issue 9, pp 2029-2060

Ranking protected areas in the Azores using standardised sampling of soil epigean arthropods

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Nineteen areas in seven of the nine Azorean islands were evaluated for species diversity and rarity based on soil epigean arthropods. Fifteen out of the 19 study areas are managed as Natural Forest Reserves and the remaining four were included due to their importance as indigenous forest cover. Four of the 19 areas are not included in the European Conservation network, NATURA 2000. Two sampling replicates were run per study area, and a total of 191 species were collected; 43 of those species (23%) are endemic to the archipelago and 12 have yet to be described. To produce an unbiased multiple-criteria index (importance value for conservation, IV-C) incorporating diversity and rarity based indices, an iterative partial multiple regression analysis was performed. In addition, an irreplaceability index and the complementarity method (using both optimisation and heuristic methods) were used for priority-reserves analyses. It was concluded that at least one well-managed reserve per island is absolutely necessary to have a good fraction of the endemic arthropods preserved. We found that for presence/absence data the suboptimal complementarity algorithm provides solutions as good as the optimal algorithm. For abundance data, optimal solutions indicate that most reserves are needed if we want that at least 50% of endemic arthropod populations are represented in a minimum set of reserves. Consistently, two of the four areas not included in the NATURA 2000 framework were considered of high priority, indicating that vascular plants and bird species used to determine NATURA 2000 sites are not good surrogates of arthropod diversity in the Azores. The most irreplaceable reserves are those located in older islands, which indicates that geological history plays an important role in explaining faunal diversity of arthropods in the Azores. Based both on the uniqueness of species composition and high species richness, conservation efforts should be focused on the unmanaged Pico Alto region in the archipelago’s oldest island, Santa Maria.