Summary 1 Because of their popular appeal, top vertebrate predators have frequently been used as flagship or umbrella species to acquire financial support, raise environmental awareness and plan systems of protected areas. However, some have claimed that the utilization of charismatic predators may divert a disproportionate amount of funding to a few glamorous species without delivering broader biodiversity benefits, an accusation aggravated by the fact that the conservation of top predators is often complex, difficult and expensive. Therefore, tests are needed of whether apex predators may be employed to achieve ecosystem‐level targets. 2 To test such a hypothesis, we compared the biodiversity values recorded at the breeding sites of six raptor species, differing widely in diet and habitat associations, with those observed at three types of control locations, (i) sites randomly chosen in comparable habitat, (ii) breeding sites of a randomly selected bird species of lower trophic level and (iii) breeding sites of a lower trophic level species with specialized ecological requirements. Biodiversity was measured as the richness and evenness of bird, butterfly and tree species. 3 Biodiversity levels were consistently higher at sites occupied by top predators than at any of the three types of control sites. Furthermore, sites occupied by top predators also held greater densities of individual birds and butterflies (all species combined) than control sites. 4 In a reserve‐selection simulation exercise, networks of protected sites constructed on the basis of top predators were more efficient than networks based on lower trophic level species, enabling higher biodiversity coverage to be achieved with a smaller number of reserves. 5 Synthesis and applications. Our results provide evidence of a link between the strategic utilization of top predatory species and ecosystem‐level conservation. We suggest that, at least in some biological systems, conservation plans based on apex predators could be implemented to deliver broader biodiversity benefits.
Journal of Applied Ecology – Wiley
Published: Dec 1, 2006
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