Rarity of Organisms in the Sand Pine Scrub Habitat of Florida

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Naturalists conceive of “rare” organisms as those narrow in geographic range, restricted to few habitats, or small in population sizes. Because rare organisms may be rare in a variety of ways, a particular conservation strategy that purports to protect them may not do so effectively in all cases; therefore, categorization of rarity in advance could help ensure that the chosen strategy has a reasonable chance of success in a particular case. We placed plants, amphibians, and reptiles resident in the Sand Pine scrub habitat of Florida into categories of rarity. Determining if and in what way a particular organism is rare proved difficult, because the process requires exact specification of what is meant by “narrow,”“restricted,” and “small.” Furthermore, the process requires choice of a scale for judging rarity and relies upon data that are likely to be of variable availability and reliability. We categorized rarity by several schemes, and they produced distributions of taxa among categories of rarity that largely were similar to one another but that diverged in telling ways. The distributions of taxa among categories of rarity produced by any scheme were different for scrub plants than for scrub amphibians and reptiles. Likewise, these distributions were different than those produced by previously published studies of rarity. We found that the results of our categorization schemes did not match particularly well with the official listing of scrub organisms as endangered or potentially endangered.

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Conservation Biology, v. 6, issue 4, p. 537-548