Protection of regional biodiversity requires that priority for protection of individual areas be based on both the contribution the area can make to representing overall biodiversity and the degree to which the area, in the absence of action, is vulnerable to loss of its biodiversity. Attempts to apply these criteria together largely have been ad hoc. A solution to this problem is presented for environmental surrogate data, based on ‘environmental diversity’ (ED). ED uses a standard ecological continuum model to link environmental pattern to species-level biodiversity, so that a set of areas can be characterized by its relative expected biodiversity. This allows explicit incorporation of estimates of area-vulnerability, interpreted as the relative probability that any member species will not persist, into biodiversity assessments. The contribution of a given area to regional expected biodiversity is influenced not only by its own vulnerability value, but also by the vulnerability of other areas. Increasing the degree of protection of any area (reducing its vulnerability) will increase expected biodiversity: however, expected regional biodiversity sometimes may be maximized when limited resources for protection are directed to an area with lower vulnerability rather than to one with higher vulnerability.
The allocation of land uses in a region need not be viewed as an all-or-nothing assignment of protection. The effect of a particular management regime on the biodiversity of a given area can be equated with some consequent degree of vulnerability; viewed positively, a management regime that offers some degree of biodiversity protection can make a measurable contribution to the protection of the biodiversity of a region.