Biodiversity Hotspots, Herpetofaunal Systematics, and Conservation Prioritization in the Bahamas

Biodiversity Hotspots, Bahamas

As a part of the Caribbean Islands Biodiversity Hotspot, the Bahama Islands host substantial species richness and endemism. However, like archipelagos elsewhere and largely because of anthropogenic impacts, many of these species and the habitats they require are threatened. Biodiversity hotspots have become prominent in conservation biology, but their delineation, prioritization, and protection can be elusive. To address these issues in The Bahamas, we examined biodiversity hotspots for terrestrial amphibians and reptiles (and, separately, for birds). We found the identified hotspots discordant when based on three indices (species richness, endemism, and threat) and two taxonomic levels (species and subspecies). Moreover, we determined that a number of endemic and threatened species currently lack habitat protection in the form of established National Parks.

This work identified two urgent needs to better address conservation prioritization in the Bahamas: 1) to evaluate species limits using modern systematics methods and concepts (current taxonomies are based on decades-old assessments); and 2) to assess the current population status of all taxa. These needs are especially important for the 37 species and 87 subspecies of native terrestrial amphibians and reptiles. We suspect that unrecognized species are at risk of extinction because we lack basic information on their proper taxonomic status and endangerment.

Conservation Systematics of Bahama Herpetofauna
Key components: DNA sample collection of various amphibians and reptiles from all major island groups; molecular phylogenetic analysis to redefine species limits
Project duration: 10 years
Estimated cost: $100,000 (excluding salaries)

Population and Conservation Status of Bahama Herpetofauna
Key components: population surveys of all amphibian and reptile taxa on all major island groups, including assessment of potential conservation threats (e.g., invasive predators)
Project duration: 5 years
Estimated cost: $100,000 (excluding salaries)