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      Species-area relationships always overestimate extinction rates from habitat loss.

      Nature

      Animals, Biodiversity, Ecosystem, Extinction, Biological, Models, Biological, Models, Statistical, Passeriformes, classification, Population Density, Trees, growth & development, United States

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          Abstract

          Extinction from habitat loss is the signature conservation problem of the twenty-first century. Despite its importance, estimating extinction rates is still highly uncertain because no proven direct methods or reliable data exist for verifying extinctions. The most widely used indirect method is to estimate extinction rates by reversing the species-area accumulation curve, extrapolating backwards to smaller areas to calculate expected species loss. Estimates of extinction rates based on this method are almost always much higher than those actually observed. This discrepancy gave rise to the concept of an 'extinction debt', referring to species 'committed to extinction' owing to habitat loss and reduced population size but not yet extinct during a non-equilibrium period. Here we show that the extinction debt as currently defined is largely a sampling artefact due to an unrecognized difference between the underlying sampling problems when constructing a species-area relationship (SAR) and when extrapolating species extinction from habitat loss. The key mathematical result is that the area required to remove the last individual of a species (extinction) is larger, almost always much larger, than the sample area needed to encounter the first individual of a species, irrespective of species distribution and spatial scale. We illustrate these results with data from a global network of large, mapped forest plots and ranges of passerine bird species in the continental USA; and we show that overestimation can be greater than 160%. Although we conclude that extinctions caused by habitat loss require greater loss of habitat than previously thought, our results must not lead to complacency about extinction due to habitat loss, which is a real and growing threat.

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          Most cited references 11

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          The future of biodiversity.

          Recent extinction rates are 100 to 1000 times their pre-human levels in well-known, but taxonomically diverse groups from widely different environments. If all species currently deemed "threatened" become extinct in the next century, then future extinction rates will be 10 times recent rates. Some threatened species will survive the century, but many species not now threatened will succumb. Regions rich in species found only within them (endemics) dominate the global patterns of extinction. Although new technology provides details of habitat losses, estimates of future extinctions are hampered by our limited knowledge of which areas are rich in endemics.
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            Species and Area

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              Biodiversity. Extinction by numbers.

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                21593870
                10.1038/nature09985

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