Prioritizing sites for conservation based on similarity to historical baselines and feasibility of protection
Authors: Traci Popejoy, Charles R. Randklev, Thomas M. Neeson, and Caryn C. Vaughn
The shifting baseline syndrome concept advocates for the use of historical knowledge to inform conservation baselines, but does not address the feasibility of restoring sites to those baselines. In many regions, conservation feasibility varies among sites due to differences in resource availability, statutory power, and land‐owner participation. We use zooarchaeological records to identify a historical baseline of the freshwater mussel community's composition before Euro‐American influence at a river‐reach scale. We evaluate how the community reference position and the feasibility of conservation might enable identification of sites where conservation actions would preserve historically representative communities and be likely to succeed. We first present a conceptual model that incorporates community information and landscape factors to link the best conservation areas to potential cost and conservation benefits. Using fuzzy ordination, we identify modern mussel beds that are most like the historical baseline. We then quantify the housing density and land use near each reach to estimate feasibility of habitat restoration. Using our conceptual framework, we identify reaches that have high conservation value (i.e., reaches that contain the best mussel beds) and where restoration actions would be most likely to succeed. Reaches above Lake Belton in central Texas, U.S.A. were most similar in species composition and relative abundance to zooarchaeological sites. A subset of these mussel beds occurred in locations where conservation actions appear to be most feasible. This study demonstrates how to use zooarchaeological data (biodiversity data often readily available) and estimates of conservation feasibility to inform conservation priorities at a local spatial scale.