Optimizing conservation of forest diversity: a country-wide approach in Mexico
A recent vegetation study [Palacio-Prieto et al. (2000) Bol Inst Geogr UNAM 43:183–203] showed that Mexico’s forest area has declined to 33.3%, from originally 52.0% of the country’s land area. In order to assess strategies for tree diversity conservation, we compiled a list of 846 tree species native to Mexico, and determined for each the presence or absence in 234 geographical squares of 1° latitude by 1° longitude (approximately 106 × 106 km). On the average, any two squares shared only 6% of their species composition. Using a standard optimization method from engineering and economics [Dantzig (1963) Linear programming and extensions. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA, 625 p], we determined the minimally necessary land area in Mexico to conserve the 846 tree species, while securing that each species is found in an area of (approximately) 1,100 km 2 of currently existing forest vegetation. Furthermore, we took into account 15 existing protected areas with a size of at least 1,100 km 2 each. With these constraints, the total minimum area needed to conserve all 846 tree species is 45,136 km 2 of currently existing forest vegetation, or 2.3% of Mexico’s surface. While this analysis can be refined with subsequent field work, the proposed reserve network indicates that efficient land use planning on a national scale may be able to conserve tree species diversity in a relatively small portion of Mexico, even after severe deforestation has taken place.