Ecosystem Profile: Polynesia-Micronesia

Conservation Outcomes
This ecosystem profile includes a commitment and emphasis to achieve concrete conservation outcomes. To do this requires defining the set of quantifiable, justifiable targets that need to be achieved to prevent biodiversity loss.

Conservation outcomes can be defined at three scales – species, site, and landscape – reflecting a simplification of a complex hierarchical continuum of ecological scales. The three scales interlock geographically through the presence of species in sites and of sites in landscapes. They are also logically connected. If species are to be conserved, the sites on which they live must be protected and the landscapes or seascapes must continue to sustain the ecological services on which the sites and the species depend. As conservation in the field succeeds in achieving these targets, they become demonstrable results or outcomes: “Extinctions Avoided” (species level), “Areas Protected” (site level), and “Corridors Consolidated” (landscape level).

While CEPF cannot achieve all of the outcomes identified for a region on its own, the partnership is trying to ensure that its conservation investments are working toward preventing biodiversity loss and that its success can be monitored and measured. Therefore, the targets (hereafter “outcomes”), are the scientific underpinning for CEPF’s geographic and thematic focus for investment in Polynesia and Micronesia. In the context of the archipelagic Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot, only species and site outcomes have been defined since landscape-scale outcomes are not considered appropriate.

Species Outcomes
Defining conservation outcomes is a bottom-up process with a definition of species-level targets first, from which the definition of site-level targets is based. The process requires detailed knowledge of the conservation status of individual species. Although this information has been accumulating in global Red Lists produced by IUCN-The World Conservation Union and partners for more than 40 years, our knowledge of the population status of most threatened species is still very deficient. This is especially true in the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot, where surveys and research on rare species are very limited.

The Red Lists are based on quantitative criteria under which the probability of extinction is estimated for each species. Species classified as “threatened” on the Red List have a high probability of extinction in the medium term future. These include the three IUCN categories Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN) and Vulnerable (VU). Defining outcomes is a fluid process and, as data become available, species-level outcomes will be expanded to include other taxonomic groups that previously had not been assessed, as well as restricted-range species. Avoiding extinctions means conserving globally threatened species to make sure that their Red List status improves or at least stabilizes. This in turn means that data are needed on population trends; for most of the threatened species, there are no such data.

The sheer size and scale of the hotspot and the large number of countries included in it meant that the volume of data gathered for defining outcomes was immense. A comprehensive database was developed to assist this process. Data sources included published scientific papers, species recovery plans, NBSAP reports, field guides, and personal communications with many scientists. Key data sources for birds were the Threatened Birds of the World (BirdLife 2000) and Endemic Bird Areas of the World (Stattersfield et al 1998). Data on plant distributions was drawn from volumes 1-5 of Flora Vitiensis Nova by A.C. Smith (1979 to 1995), and volumes 2-5 of Pacific Plant Areas (Van Balgooy 1966-1993), for amphibians from the Global Amphibian Assessment (Frost 2002) and for mammals from Mammals of the South West Pacific and Moluccan Islands (Flannery 1995).

Species outcomes in the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot include all those species that are globally threatened according to the IUCN Red List (2003) at the time the outcomes were defined in the profiling process. At present, there are 476 globally threatened terrestrial species in all the countries and territories of the hotspot. Table 4 summarizes the taxonomic breakdown of the 476 threatened species in the hotspot while the full list of threatened species is shown in Appendix 1. Table 5 shows the geographic distribution of threatened species by political unit, while Figure 2 is a map of this information.

Almost half (232 out of 476) of the threatened species in the hotspot are in political units that are ineligible for CEPF funding. The vast majority of the species in ineligible countries (214 species and almost half of all threatened species in the hotspot) are in Hawaii alone. The remaining 244 species in CEPF eligible countries define the full set of species outcomes for this ecosystem profile. Species outcomes for the eligible portion of the hotspot (of the 244 species) include 129 plants, 42 molluscs, 58 birds, eight mammals, six reptiles and one amphibian. Of the 244 species, 92 are Critically Endangered, 48 are Endangered and 104 are Vulnerable. Absent from the list are fish and invertebrates, other than molluscs. This is likely because of the lack of an assessment of the conservation status of these taxa for inclusion in the Red List at the time.

Eighty percent of globally threatened species in eligible countries (192 out of the 244 species) are in Fiji and French Polynesia alone. The statistics imply that these two countries should be a major focus of conservation effort in the hotspot. However, it is likely that these figures are also a reflection of the amount of research effort that has been conducted in each country. Fiji and French Polynesia, being two of the wealthier countries in the hotspot, are where much of the research effort has been focused. It is clear that much more research is required in the less-studied countries of the hotspot to provide a more accurate representation of the distribution of threatened species throughout the hotspot.

It must be stressed therefore that there are significant deficiencies in the Red List for the hotspot with respect to both the taxonomic representation and the geographic distribution of Red Listed species. The taxonomic deficiencies are especially serious with respect to invertebrates, fish, and plants, while the geographic deficiency is especially true for the smaller, less wealthy countries of the hotspot. Appendix 2 includes a list of provisional species outcomes, which local and regional experts suspect are globally threatened. These species are in urgent need of assessment of population and threat status. If they are reassessed as globally threatened during the five-year investment period, they could become species-level targets and therefore potentially eligible for CEPF investment.

Figure 2. Distribution of Globally Threatened Terrestrial Species in the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot (PDF, 128 KB)

Site Outcomes
Recognizing that most species are best conserved through the protection of the sites in which they occur, key biodiversity areas are defined as targets for achieving site-level conservation outcomes. Key biodiversity areas are physically and/or socioeconomically discrete areas of land that harbor species of global conservation concern including globally threatened species, but also of restricted-range species and globally significant congregations. Sites are scale-independent, in other words they can be small or large, but a major criterion for their selection is that they should be, as far as possible, manageable as a single unit (i.e. a unit with a single type of land tenure). These sites need careful management to conserve the species for which they were defined. The process of defining key biodiversity areas can only be done when accurate and comprehensive data are available on the distribution of threatened species across sites.

When appropriate data were available, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) tools were used to map and analyze species distributions. Such maps were useful for the identification of site outcomes, or key biodiversity areas. Digital datasets were obtained for the following taxonomic groups: birds (from BirdLife 2000), amphibians (from the Global Amphibian Assessment- Frost 2002) and corals (from Veron 1986). However, detailed species distribution maps have only been generated for a few species, and most species were only mapped to the country of occurrence and in a few cases to specific islands.

Key biodiversity areas were determined by identifying the sites in CEPF eligible countries that contain populations of at least one globally threatened species. Key data sources for this analysis included published scientific articles, the IUCN regional ecosystem survey (Dahl 1980), a number of GIS data layers, data from the World Database on Protected Areas (IUCN-UNEP 2003), NBSAP reports, ecological survey data, subregional workshops, and communications with many scientists. Data on restricted-range species and globally significant congregations were not available for this analysis but could be incorporated at a later date, especially with the upcoming project of BirdLife International to define Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for the Pacific. This hotspot is likely to have several sites containing globally important congregations of seabirds; however only one site, the Phoenix Islands, was identified using this criterion (Angela Kepler, pers comm). It is a priority to refine this analysis of key biodiversity areas by systematically applying the globally singificant congregations criteria, as well as restricted-range criteria, in the near future.

In total, 161 sites were identified for the hotspot, each containing at least one globally threatened species, and most of the sites contain several or many globally threatened species. A total of 243 species (all but one of the 244 eligible species) were assigned to at least one site. The only species which was not assigned to a site is the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), which does not nest in the hotspot but has been reported from Palau and Fiji.

The full list of key biodiversity areas, with distribution by country, is presented in Appendix 3. Some of the sites are islands or groups of islands (typically small islands), because finer-scale data for some areas were not available. Many of the sites selected have also been identified as critical sites for conservation by other environmental organizations. All sites are within one of the 20 Pacific terrestrial ecoregions (Olson et al 2001). Furthermore, 54 sites (33 percent) are, or are within, existing or planned protected areas, 70 sites (43 percent) are within an endemic bird area (Stattersfield et al 1998), and 51 sites (31 percent) are within a Center of Plant Diversity (van Royen and Davis 1995). Table 6 shows the distribution of sites by the 14 CEPF eligible countries in the hotspot. Note that there is also one transboundary site, the proposed Central Pacific World Heritage Site, which includes islands in three countries in the central Pacific: Kiribati, the United States, and the Cook Islands.

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