Computer Model May Identify Conservation Hot Spots

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How helpful the tool may be in conservation decisions regarding other species has not yet been demonstrated.

"There remains considerable debate about how much the distribution of one animal can tell you about the distribution of other taxa," said Kent Redford, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Institute.

Also, it doesn't necessarily follow that because chameleons are being protected, so are lemurs, fish, and other animals, he said.

"Still, where you have limited habitat being lost at an accelerated rate, any tool you can provide is helpful," said Redford. "I'm in the 'hurry up and wait' school—hurry up and create a reserve and then wait to see what's in there. In some places the rate of habitat loss is probably faster than anybody's ability to assess what an area contains."

This is particularly true in Madagascar.

"Only ten percent of the country's original forests remain," said Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at Princeton University. "Recent estimates suggest that one to two percent of Madagascar's remaining forests are destroyed each year, and that 80 to 90 percent of the island's land area burns each year."

Raxworthy hopes the tool will be implemented soon.

"The Malagasy government has committed to tripling its protected areas, so the timing of this is really great," said Raxworthy. "It's a technological solution that can be applied rapidly."

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