Identifying globally important sites for life on earth: scoping of Key Biodiversity Areas

Identifying globally important sites for life on earth: scoping of Key Biodiversity Areas

The Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) partnership was tasked with developing a map of key sites for life on earth that can guide both governments, industry and conservation partners to safeguard sites that are most critical for conservation across the planet. The goal of this project was to identify sites that potentially qualify as KBAs for each of four taxa (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians), developing extent of suitable habitat (ESH) maps for each taxon and using these to identify likely KBAs and species that trigger KBA status for each country of the World.

This project was funded by the CCI Collaborative Fund for Conservation.

Project Aims

Key objectives for this project were:

  1. Estimating ESH for each species of terrestrial vertebrate assessed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
  2. Using ESH maps, identify likely KBAs and the species that trigger KBA status at for each country to provide a guide for KBA identification in each country of the World
  3. Make these maps and lists of species available through the World Database of KBAs

Key Activities

An initial workshop was held in November 2018, organized by the KBA Secretariat and which involved contributions from Daniele Baisero (WCS, KBA Secretariat, tasked with developing all the models), Graeme Buchanan (RSPB, bird taxa), Paul Donald (BirdLife international, bird taxa), Francesco Ficetola (University of Milan, amphibian taxa), Carlo Rondinini (Sapienza Univeristy of Rome, mammal taxa) and Neil Cox (IUCN, reptile taxa), among others.

The main output of the workshop was agreement on a standardized approach to developing the ESH/AOH models. The workshop resulted in a standardized modelling framework that is applicable to a wider spectrum of taxa than the original models, and allowed the development of 58,588 ESH/AOH models (breeding and non-breeding ranges). These ESH/AOH models were then used to assess potential KBAs across the terrestrial part of the world at different scales. We also assessed all existing KBAs to determine which would likely qualify as Global KBAs for terrestrial vertebrates under KBA criteria A1, B1 and B2.

In November 2019, the KBA Secretariat helped host a workshop to determine how to best apply KBA Criterion E (irreplaceability). The ESH models developed were crucial in the workshop, and used as testing data for subsequent analyses to help guide the application of criterion E.

In 2021, key outputs and global results will be presented in the IUCN World Conservation Congress, in a session on KBAs in a post2020 world.


Conservation Impact

  • The APDB and SAT will be hosted on a server with API access, initially limited to the CCI partners and KBA partners but with a longer term aim of making it accessible through the World Database of KBAs if funding can be obtained to create a user interface.
  • A presentation of the results of the KBA APDB and SAT were presented in a lunch talk to the CCI Conservation Science Group in 2019 to make the results known within the CCI and to obtain feedback on the approach and results. The feedback was very positive and people were excited by the database.
  • The project has developed an R modeling package that will be published together with a journal publication on global KBA scoping which is under preparation.
  • Two conference participations to present results of the project are currently in the works: a forum session in the IUCN World Congress 2021, and an intervention in the 2021 Congress of the Italian Mammal Society.
  • Lists of potential trigger species and sites have been provided to countries which are undergoing KBA assessments such as Mozambique and Canada. The results of analyses are being used to guide the KBA programme and partnership and there is great interest in expanding the taxonomic scope to include marine, plant and invertebrate species.



Results from the modelling exercises highlight that, the scoping of sites important for biodiversity (KBAs) is a process strongly influenced by scale of analysis.

It was found that KBAs potentially cover a much wider proportion of the world than current coverage of existing KBAs. At moderate scales (~486 km²), at least 23% of the planning units intersecting land can potentially trigger KBA status for terrestrial vertebrates alone, compared to the current 8.8% of land that is covered by existing KBAs. This figure strongly increases as planning unit size increases, and at resolutions of ~39,357 km², virtually all land potentially qualifies as KBAs. The constraint on KBA size is the potential for manageability and this will vary between locations. All KBAs must be identified through nationally led processes, so the parameter database can provide inputs to such processes.

Scoping the existing KBAs across the World, many of which have been identified by older KBA criteria or IBA criteria, we found that 46% would likely qualify as Global KBAs using the KBA Standard criteria developed in 2016. The areas where existing KBAs did not meet the global standard were mainly in northern Europe or in KBAs of small area. The database only contained data on ranges of terrestrial vertebrates and we are in the process of incorporating data on plants and invertebrate groups and believe many more sites will qualify when we re-run the analyses with these additional species. We were also unable to use the database to apply criterion D for migratory species as it requires numbers of mature individuals for its measurement and many bird sites will also be triggered by this criterion.

There has been a lot of interest in making the APDB accessible to people interested in proposing KBAs and it is planned to host the APDB and SAT on the Cambridge University Server and this will allow processing of analyses to be made much more quickly.  Funding is being sought to develop a user-friendly front end to access the database to enable non-technical people to query their own shapefiles of sites. There is also a desire to see marine taxa, plants and invertebrates added to the database.


Project Overview

Type: Funded Projects
Theme: Indicators, monitoring and effectiveness
Project code: CCI-05-18-004
Start date: September 1, 2018
Status: Complete

CCI partners Involved

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