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Conservation Planning Software

An index of common (open-source) tools to achieve a systematic conservation planning exercise.


Systematic Conservation Planning can be broken down into a series of discrete tasks.  This page is meant to adhere to those basic themes which are fundamental to the process.  While not meant to describe every step in the process, most conservation planning exercises will execute some, if not all, of these themes in order to achieve a comprehensive plan.  Over the past two decades many pieces of software have been developed to aid practitioners in this process.  A selection of the most common software is described below.


Reserve Selection

(An attempt to capture and sustain biodiversity in parcels of land)
  1. Marxan provides decision support to a range of conservation planning problems, including:
    • the design of new reserve systems
    • reporting on the performance of existing reserve systems
    • developing multiple-use zoning plans for natural resource management
  2. Zonation identifies areas important for retaining habitat quality and connectivity for multiple species.
    • produces a hierarchical prioritization of the landscape based on the occurrence levels of biodiversity features in sites (cells) by iteratively removing the least valuable remaining cell while accounting for connectivity and generalized complementarity
    • produces a complementarity-based priority ranking
  3. C-Plan is a conservation decision support software that links with GIS to map options for achieving explicit conservation targets.
    • determining planning units, the sites to be assessed and compared as potential conservation areas
    • maps of biodiversity features
    • a target for each feature (e.g. number of hectares of each vegetation type and number of locality records for each species)
    • data matrix listing the extent or occurrence of each feature in each planning unit
  4. Sites provides a suite of conservation planning options but mostly operates inside an early ecoregional planning framework.
    • Test and apply the ecoregional planning approach and performance measures in a structured decision process
    • Develop a new reserves for regional conservation analysis that explicitly incorporates spatial design criteria into the site selection process


Species Distribution (SDM)

(Models that predict species' potential distributions by combining known occurrence records with digital layers of environmental variables)

  1. Maxent is based on the maximum-entropy approach for species habitat modeling.
    • finds the largest spread (maximum entropy) in a geographic dataset of species presences
    • maximizes the log likelihood of the data associated with the presence sites minus a penalty term, conceptually similar to information criteria like AIC
  2. DesktopGARP is a genetic algorithm that creates an ecological niche model for a species that represents the environmental conditions where that species would be able to maintain populations.
    • input a set of point localities where the species is known to occur
    • finds non-random correlations between the presence and absence of the species and the values of the environmental parameters
    • there are four types of rules that are implemented to build the models: atomic, logistic regression, bioclimatic envelope and negated bioclimatic envelope
  3. DIVA-GIS is particularly useful for mapping and analyzing biodiversity data, such as the distribution of species, or other 'point-distributions'.
    • supports SDMs for BIOCLIM or DOMAIN models
    • treats absence and background data as equivalent concepts. All non-presence points are considered to be absence data
  4. openModeller provides a flexible, robust, cross-platform environment to carry out ecological niche modeling experiments.
    • The framework includes facilities for sampling points, creating, testing, evaluating and projecting models into different environmental scenarios
    • More than 10 algorithms are available as plugins, including GARP, Maxent, ENFA and Support Vector Machines
  5. BioMapper is a A GIS-toolkit to model ecological niche and habitat suitability.
    • Preparing the ecogeographical maps in order to use them as input for the Ecological Niche Factor Analysis (ENFA) (e.g. computing frequency of occurrence map, standardization, masking, etc.)
    • Exploring and comparing maps by mean of descriptive statistics (distribution analysis, etc.)
    • Computing the Ecological Niche Factor Analysis and exploring its output
    • Computing a Habitat Suitability map



(Models which prioritize areas to enhance, maintain, or create in order to facilitate the sustainability and/or movement of biota thorough time.)
  1. Linkage Mapper is a GIS tool designed to support regional wildlife habitat connectivity analyses.
    • uses GIS maps of core habitat areas and resistances to identify and map linkages between core areas
    • each cell in a resistance map is attributed with a value reflecting the energetic cost, difficulty, or mortality risk of moving across that cell
    • species movement away from core areas increase the total cost-weighted distance as resistance accumulates
    • hybridizes least-cost modeling with Circuitscape (see the Pinchpoint Mapper module)
  2. Corridor Designer includes an ArcToolbox toolbox for creating habitat and corridor models with ArcGIS and an ArcMap extension for evaluating corridors.
    • create habitat suitability models & identify potential habitat patches
    • create corridor models
    • transforms digital elevation models into a topographic slope position rasters
  3. CircuitScape borrows algorithms from circuit theory to predict patterns of movement, gene flow, and genetic differentiation among populations in heterogeneous landscapes.
    • identify and prioritize important areas for connectivity conservation
    • identify 'barriers' to gene flow for restoration efforts
    • can be executed for pairwise (every habitat x  every habitat) calculation to calculate cumulative connectivity and/or resistance
    • has been demonstrated to be more accurate than least cost path modeling for multiple habitats and species
  4. Connectivity Analysis Toolkit provides conservation planners with newly-developed tools for both linkage mapping and landscape-level 'centrality' analysis.
    • Centrality metrics evaluate paths between all possible pairwise combinations of sites on a landscape to rank the contribution of each site to facilitating ecological flows across the network of sites
    • avoids the binary classification of landscapes into patch and matrix required by patch-based analyses of connectivity
    • avoid the focus on delineating paths between individual pairs of core areas characteristic of most corridor- or linkage-mapping methods of connectivity analysis
  5. Conefor quantifies the importance of habitat areas for the maintenance or improvement of landscape connectivity.
    • includes new connectivity indices (integral index of connectivity, probability of connectivity)
    • indices are based on spatial graphs and on the concept of measuring habitat availability (reachability) at the landscape scale
  6. UNICOR implements several shortest path algorithms for any number of landscapes and distributions of species.
    • alogrithms include; shortest-path (LCP using Dijkstra's algorithm) between all individuals, thresholded shortest-paths, kernel resistance paths
    • intended for use by land managers as well as the research community
    • has a parallel processing toolbox built-in so it can be easily executed on a cluster of computers


Threat Assessment

(Involves understanding a range of socioeconomic and ecological processes that contribute to threaten a location, species, or resource .)

  1. GeoCAT is a web tool that harnesses primary biological data for semi-automated IUCN Red List assessment and analysis.
    • harness primary biodiversity data for application of the IUCN Red List system for conservation assessments
    • inclusion of data layers in kml/kmz format
  2. Miradi is a program that allows nature conservation practitioners to design, manage, monitor, and learn from their projects to more effectively meet their conservation goals.
    • Threat Prioritization
    • Development of Objectives and Actions
    • Selection of Monitoring Indicators
    • Planning and Financial Views


Population Viability Analysis (PVA)

(Species-specific method of risk assessment; Used to estimate the likelihood of a population’s extinction and indicate the urgency of recovery effort.)

  1. Vortex is an individual-based simulation of deterministic forces as well as demographic, environmental and genetic stochastic events on wildlife populations.
    • models population dynamics as discrete, sequential events that occur according to probabilities that are random variables following user-specified distributions
    • simulates a population by stepping through a series of events that describe an annual cycle of a typical sexually reproducing, diploid organism: mate selection, reproduction, mortality, increment of age by one year, dispersal among populations, removals, supplementation, and then truncation (if necessary) to the carrying capacity.
    • Highly Iterative
  2. BIOMOD is a platform for ensemble forecasting of species distributions, enabling the treatment of a range of methodological uncertainties in models and the examination of species-environment relationships.
    • includes options for climate or land use change scenarios
    • assessing species temporal turnover, plot species response curves, and test the strength of species interactions with predictor variables
    • Implemented inside the statistical software 'R'
  3. By far the most popular proprietary software package for PVA is the 'RAMAS' suite: Ramas Metapop
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