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Ecological vulnerability of two sea turtle species in the Gulf of Mexico: an integrated spatial approach

Eduardo Cuevas, María de los Ángeles Liceaga-Correa*, Abigail Uribe-Martínez

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Changes in ecological attributes as a result of anthropogenic activities and climatic forces might jeopardize biodiversity, and these potential impacts must be evaluated for conservation. Integrating the different components of a large ecosystem can, however, pose a methodological challenge. When evaluating the sensitivity of a system, the level of stress imposed by a threat and the system’s ability to deal with pressures ultimately define its actual condition. The objective of this study was to assemble a spatially explicit quantitative approach for evaluating the ecological vulnerability of 2 sea turtle species (Eretmochelys imbricata and Chelonia mydas) and their cumulative vulnerability. We used a method that combined the use of an open source planning tool (Conservation Action Planning) and spatial multicriteria analysis to determine the total cumulative ecological vulnerability to multiple threats for each species individually and for both species combined. The spatially explicit outputs were supported by hard data and expert knowledge, including the cumulative ecological vulnerability of each species to multiple threats (n = 6) as well as the potential impacts of each threat to the species. For both species we identified the areas in the Gulf of Mexico where the individual threats potentially have an impact and also determined the high vulnerability locations. This spatially explicit approach is versatile and easily reproducible for other biotic entities and processes, especially for the evaluation and conservation of other endangered species. Ecological vulnerability is important in risk assessments for any taxa and can support the conservation and management of endangered species.