When prioritizing conservation efforts, the range size of a species is often used as measure of rarity and to determine its intrinsic risk of extinction. How ranges are defined or estimated, however, may affect how rare or common a species is seen to be, and whether conservation efforts are valid.
Stream-dwelling organisms, such as freshwater fishes contrained to river networks, may present a particular challenge, which authors of this study attempted to elucidate by comparing different methods of range size estimation.
Initially selecting a wide taxonomic and geographic representation of species, the authors gathered GBIF-mediated occurrences of 128 fishes in the conterminous United States and calculated range sizes based on minimum convex polygons.
They then compared the GBIF-based results to range sizes derived from NatureServe maps—considered the best available estimates of current distributions—finding strong correlations between the approaches with no detectable taxonomic bias.
Importantly, both analytical approaches consistently identified the rarest and perhaps most vulnerable species, suggesting an important role of open data in filling fundamental knowledge gaps, especially for poorly understood taxa.