The focal-species approach and landscape restoration: A critique

D. B. Lindenmayer*, A. D. Manning, P. L. Smith, H. P. Possingham, J. Fischer, I. Oliver, M. A. McCarthy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

214 Citations (Scopus)


In many parts of the world there is an urgent need for landscape restoration to conserve biodiversity. Landscape restoration is not straightforward, however, because many issues and processes must be understood for effective action to take place. In an attempt to guide restoration efforts for biodiversity conservation, Lambeck (1997, 1999) developed a taxon-based surrogate scheme called the focal-species approach. The focal-species approach involves the identification of a suite of species targeted for the management of threatening processes and vegetation-restoration efforts. Together, their "requirements for persistence define the attributes that must be present if [the landscape] is to meet the needs of the remaining biota" (Lambeck 1999). Some of our concerns with the focal-species approach include the following. First, the underlying theoretical basis of the focal-species approach is problematic. As part of a taxon-based surrogate scheme, a suite of focal species is presumed to act collectively as a surrogate for other elements of the biota. But taxon-based surrogate schemes have had limited success everywhere they have been applied. Second, the focal-species approach may be unsuitable for practical implementation, primarily because of the lack of data to guide the selection of a set of focal species in the majority of landscapes. We argue that restoration strategies should be based on appropriate theory, realistic assessment of available information, and an achievable outcome for the land managers who own or control the majority of land in the most significantly affected landscapes. Given the potential limitations of the focal-species approach, a mix of different strategies shouM be adopted in any given landscape and between different landscapes to spread risk of failure of any one approach. We believe that it is important to raise awareness about the potential limitations of the focal-species approach and to ensure that land managers do not assume it will inevitably lead to the conservation of all biota in a landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-345
Number of pages8
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

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