Limited reciprocal surrogacy of bird and habitat diversity and inconsistencies in their representation in Romanian protected areas

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Because it is impossible to comprehensively characterize biodiversity at all levels of organization, conservation prioritization efforts need to rely on surrogates. As species distribution maps of relished groups as well as high-resolution remotely sensed data increasingly become available, both types of surrogates are commonly used. A good surrogate should represent as much of biodiversity as possible, but it often remains unclear to what extent this is the case. Here, we aimed to address this question by assessing how well bird species and habitat diversity represent one another. We conducted our study in Romania, a species- rich country with high landscape heterogeneity where bird species distribution data have only recently started to become available. First, we prioritized areas for conservation based on either 137 breeding bird species or 36 habitat classes, and then evaluated their reciprocal surrogacy performance. Second, we examined how well these features are represented in already existing protected areas. Finally, we identified target regions of high conservation value for the potential expansion of the current network of reserves (as planned under the new EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030). We found a limited reciprocal surrogacy performance, with bird species performing slightly better as a conservation surrogate for habitat diversity than vice versa. We could also show that areas with a high conservation value based on habitat diversity were represented better in already existing protected areas than areas based on bird species, which varied considerably between species. Our results highlight that taxonomic and environmental (i.e., habitat types) data may perform rather poorly as reciprocal surrogates, and multiple sources of data are required for a full evaluation of protected areas expansion.