Quantitative tools for implementing the new definition of significant portion of the range in the U.S. Endangered Species Act

Julia E. Earl, Sam Nicol, Ruscena Wiederholt, Jay E. Diffendorfer, Darius Semmens, D. T.Tyler Flockhart, Brady J. Mattsson, Gary McCracken, D. Ryan Norris, Wayne E. Thogmartin, Laura López-Hoffman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


In 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service announced a new policy interpretation for the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). According to the act, a species must be listed as threatened or endangered if it is determined to be threatened or endangered in a significant portion of its range (SPR). The 2014 policy seeks to provide consistency by establishing that a portion of the range should be considered significant if the associated individuals’ “removal would cause the entire species to become endangered or threatened.” We reviewed 20 quantitative techniques used to assess whether a portion of a species’ range is significant according to the new guidance. Our assessments are based on the 3R criteria—redundancy (i.e., buffering from catastrophe), resiliency (i.e., ability to withstand stochasticity), and representation (i.e., ability to evolve)—that the FWS uses to determine if a species merits listing. We identified data needs for each quantitative technique and considered which methods could be implemented given the data limitations typical of rare species. We also identified proxies for the 3Rs that may be used with limited data. To assess potential data availability, we evaluated 7 example species by accessing data in their species status assessments, which document all the information used during a listing decision. In all species, an SPR could be evaluated with at least one metric for each of the 3Rs robustly or with substantial assumptions. Resiliency assessments appeared most constrained by limited data, and many species lacked information on connectivity between subpopulations, genetic variation, and spatial variability in vital rates. These data gaps will likely make SPR assessments for species with complex life histories or that cross national boundaries difficult. Although we reviewed techniques for the ESA, other countries require identification of significant areas and could benefit from this research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-49
Number of pages15
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • adaptive capacity
  • endangered
  • extinction risk
  • population viability
  • threatened species

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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