CI at 25: Setting a Framework for Global Impact

South Africa's Cape Floristic Region Hotspot, which is home to more than 6,000 plants found nowhere else on Earth. (©CI/ Photo by Haroldo Castro)

Throughout 2012, as we celebrate CI’s 25 years of impact, Editorial Director Todd Christopher will recount the ways CI has been changing the face of conservation. Today he focuses on how we prioritize which areas to protect.

In recent decades, our planet’s vital natural ecosystems — and the myriad species that underpin them — have been under assault, suffering unprecedented degradation and destruction. Yet the organizations seeking to protect them often are confronted by the realities of limited resources to address what can feel like a limitless need.

In order to make the greatest impact, CI has always forged solutions that temper idealism with pragmatism by prioritizing conservation efforts. One of the first and most enduring has been CI’s emphasis on biodiversity hotspots — those species-rich areas that comprise just a fraction of the planet’s land surface yet harbor nearly half of all terrestrial plants and vertebrates found nowhere else.

Especially vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation, hotspots represent both crisis and opportunity — and their protection became a fundamental part of CI’s institutional blueprint in 1989. In subsequent global reviews, CI advanced the concept by identifying what are now 35 hotspots and introducing quantitative thresholds for their designation. The framework, with its focus on stopping loss where biodiversity, endemism and peril are greatest, quickly emerged as the prevailing paradigm for global conservation strategy.

In 1990, CI led a groundbreaking process that combined the knowledge of government officials and scientists with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map regional conservation priorities in the Amazon. The process was the first of its kind, leading to similar workshops in places like Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Madagascar — and helping to inform CI’s approach to creating protected areas, which has safeguarded more than 106 million hectares (262 million acres) of land and sea to date.

Todd Christopher

Today CI is expanding its prioritization work to terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats, mapping the flow of services from healthy ecosystems to the people who depend on them. By doing so, CI scientists are identifying the areas where conservation actions can produce the greatest returns for human well-being while also protecting critical ecosystems.

Todd Christopher is CI’s editorial director. Read other posts in our “CI at 25” blog series.

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