Preprint Review Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Reference State and Benchmark Concepts for Better Biodiversity Conservation in Contemporary Ecosystems

Version 1 : Received: 5 July 2020 / Approved: 6 July 2020 / Online: 6 July 2020 (04:04:07 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Journal reference: Global Change Biology 2020
DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15383


Measuring the status and trends of biodiversity is critical for making informed decisions about the conservation, management or restoration of species, habitats and ecosystems. Defining the reference state against which status and change are measured is essential. Typically, reference states describe historical conditions, yet historical conditions are challenging to quantify, may be difficult to falsify, and may no longer be an attainable target in a contemporary ecosystem. We have constructed a conceptual framework to help inform thinking and discussion around the philosophical underpinnings of reference states and guide their application. We characterise currently recognised historical reference states and describe them as Pre-Human, Indigenous Cultural, Pre-Intensification and Hybrid-Historical. We extend the conceptual framework to include contemporary reference states as an alternative theoretical perspective. The contemporary reference state framework is a major conceptual shift that focuses on current ecological patterns and identifies areas with higher biodiversity values, regardless of the disturbance history. The specific context for which we design the contemporary conceptual frame is underpinned by an overarching goal—to maximise biodiversity conservation and restoration outcomes in existing ecosystems. The contemporary reference state framework can account for the inherent differences in the diversity of biodiversity values (e.g., species richness, habitat complexity) across spatial scales, communities and ecosystems. In contrast to historical reference states, contemporary references states are measurable and falsifiable. This ‘road map of reference states’ offers perspective needed to define and assess the status and trends in biodiversity and habitats. Our framework for contemporary reference states provides a tractable way for policy-makers and practitioners to navigate biodiversity assessments to maximise conservation and restoration outcomes in contemporary ecosystems. We illustrate how to define a contemporary reference state using an example from south-eastern Australia.


Conservation; restoration; reference state; benchmark; vegetation; composition; structure; conceptual framework


BIOLOGY, Ecology

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