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Patterns of species richness hotspots and estimates of their protection are sensitive to spatial resolution

May 23, 2018


Species richness is a measure of biodiversity often used in spatial conservation assessments and mapped by summing species distribution maps. Commission errors inherent those maps influence richness patterns and conservation assessments. We sought to further the understanding of the sensitivity of hotspot delineation methods and conservation assessments to commission errors, and choice of threshold for hotspot delineation.


United States.


We created range maps and 30‐m and 1‐km resolution habitat maps for terrestrial vertebrates in the United States and generated species richness maps with each dataset. With the richness maps and the GAP Protected Areas Dataset, we created species richness hotspot maps and calculated the proportion of hotspots within protected areas; calculating protection under a range of thresholds for defining hotspots. Our method allowed us to identify the influence of commission errors by comparing hotspot maps.


Commission errors from coarse spatial grain data and lack of porosity in the range data inflated richness estimates and altered their spatial patterns. Coincidence of hotspots from different data types was low. The 30‐m hotspots were spatially dispersed, and some were very long distances from the hotspots mapped with coarser data. Estimates of protection were low for each of the taxa. The relationship between estimates of hotspot protection and threshold choice was nonlinear and inconsistent among data types (habitat and range) and grain size (30‐m and 1‐km).

Main conclusions

Coarse mapping methods and grain sizes can introduce commission errors into species distribution data that could result in misidentifications of the regions where hotspots occur and affect estimates of hotspot protection. Hotspot conservation assessments are also sensitive to choice of threshold for hotspot delineation. There is value in developing species distribution maps with high resolution and low rates of commission error for conservation assessments.

Publication Year 2018
Title Patterns of species richness hotspots and estimates of their protection are sensitive to spatial resolution
DOI 10.1111/ddi.12779
Authors Alexa McKerrow, Nathan M. Tarr, Matthew J. Rubino, Steven G. Williams
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Diversity and Distributions
Index ID 70200447
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Core Science Analytics and Synthesis