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Improving species status assessments under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and implications for multispecies conservation challenges worldwide

May 31, 2021

Despite its successes, the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) has proven challenging to implement due to funding limitations, workload backlog, and other problems. As threats to species survival intensify and as more species come under threat, the need for the ESA and similar conservation laws and policies in other countries to function efficiently has grown. Attempts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to streamline ESA decisions include multispecies recovery plans and habitat conservation plans. We address species status assessment (SSA), a USFWS process to inform ESA decisions from listing to recovery, within the context of multispecies and ecosystem planning. Although existing SSAs have a single-species focus, ecosystem-based research can efficiently inform multiple SSAs within a region and provide a foundation for transition to multispecies SSAs in the future. We considered at-risk grassland species and ecosystems within the southeastern United States, where a disproportionate number of rare and endemic species are associated with grasslands. To initiate our ecosystem-based approach, we used a combined literature-based and structured World Café workshop format to identify science needs for SSAs. Discussions concentrated on 5 categories of threats to grassland species and ecosystems, consistent with recommendations to make shared threats a focus of planning under the ESA: (1) habitat loss, fragmentation, and disruption of functional connectivity; (2) climate change; (3) altered disturbance regimes; (4) invasive species; and (5) localized impacts. For each threat, workshop participants identified science and information needs, including database availability, research priorities, and modeling and mapping needs. Grouping species by habitat and shared threats can make the SSA process and other planning processes for conservation of at-risk species worldwide more efficient and useful. We found a combination of literature review and structured discussion effective for identifying the scientific information and analysis needed to support the development of multiple SSAs.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Improving species status assessments under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and implications for multispecies conservation challenges worldwide
DOI 10.1111/cobi.13777
Authors Reed Noss, Jennifer M. Cartwright, Dwayne Estes, Theo Witsell, Gregg Elliott, Daniel S. Adams, Matthew A. Albrecht, Ryan Boyles, Patrick Comer, Chris Doffitt, JoVonn G. Hill, William C. Hunter, Wesley M. Knapp, Mike Marshall, Jason R. Singhurst, Christopher Tracey, Jeffrey L. Walck, Alan Weakley
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Conservation Biology
Index ID 70221725
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center