Project Update - Species Ranking System Expansion

Florida's Wildlife Legacy Initiative is working with taxa* experts to expand the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's species ranking system to include invertebrate and marine species.

The current system, developed in 1990 by staff of the then-Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, provides scores that assess the biological vulnerability to extinction and current level of understanding and management of terrestrial vertebrates and freshwater fish.  One of the key strengths of this system is that it allows biologists and managers to track species over time even when key life history information is missing.

Recent progress on this project is the result of the hard work of a core team of biologists from the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation and Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.  This team has met several times during the past year to discuss the issues and possible approaches for incorporating these taxa into the ranking system.

Currently the team is developing a guidance document for incorporating these species into the system. A meeting was held to discuss this approach with FWC marine biologists in St. Petersburg on Nov. 20, 2008.

By incorporating invertebrate and marine taxa into the system, we will ensure that all wildlife taxa receive adequate attention and are tracked over time. In addition, the Initiative plans to use the species ranking system as a measure to evaluate the success of our conservation efforts and the need for additional conservation action.

For further information on this project please contact Caroline Gorga.

*taxon (taxa is plural): group of related individuals such as a phylum, genus, species, subspecies

From the Action Plan

Species Monitoring

Florida already has developed valuable tools for prioritizing the conservation of its fish and wildlife resources. The species ranking system, a peer-reviewed monograph publication of The Wildlife Society (Millsap et al. 1990), was developed to prioritize efforts for vertebrate conservation. 

The system ranks a total of 668 vertebrate taxa (both species and subspecies) according to biological vulnerability, population status (to the extent known), and management needs. For each taxon, the system assigns a biological score, which is the sum of factors that reflect distribution, abundance and life history, and an action score, which is the sum of factors reflecting the current knowledge of a taxon's distribution, population trend, current amount of conservation effort, and limiting factors to the population. The higher the biological score the more vulnerable a taxon is to declines in population. A high action score indicates that little is currently being done in the way of research or management actions for the taxon.

The FWC reevaluates and updates the species ranking list periodically to improve management of these species and adaptively plan necessary conservation efforts. This ranking system enables state conservation planners to track the status and trends of species (biological score), as well as monitor the implementation of conservation actions on a species by species basis (action score). Many of the SGCN will be monitored at a statewide level using the species ranking system. The FWC can measure the relative increase in implementation of conservation actions addressed in Florida's State Wildlife Action Plan (Action Plan) by assessing the species ranking action scores; if action scores are lowered, that can demonstrate successful implementation of the Action Plan. Similarly, lower biological scores for taxa can demonstrate that conservation actions have been effective.

Currently the ranking system is not inclusive of all SGCN identified in the Action Plan. Certain species, namely invertebrates and marine species, are not yet included in the ranking system. A high priority monitoring action is to readdress the species ranking list to align it with the SGCN list.

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