A new method to set conservation priorities in biodiversity hotspots
Prioritization of endemic, threatened species and the habitats where they live is a crucial point of conservation actions, particularly in areas with rich endemic floras. In this study, we have developed a new procedure to define the conservation priorities among endemic plants and habitats by evaluating eight criteria. Five criteria deal with the geographic and ecological range of the evaluated species, whereas the other three refer to threats. After the evaluation of each criterion, we combined the partial scores to obtain a priority index (PI). Finally, we characterized the EU habitat categories of conservation concern on the basis of the average PI value of the plants living in each habitat. We tested the method on a list of 260 endemic plants from a biodiversity hotspot (Sardinia) that had an average PI of 3.66 ± 0.16. Even if the habitat categories that are most rich in endemic plants were rocky habitats, and coastal/halophytic habitats, the most endangered habitat was coastal sand dunes (PI = 6.75 ± 1.15). The method herein presented is complementary with the application of IUCN criteria. This integrated approach is a concrete solution that adapts IUCN criteria and categories to local contexts.