Conservation of biodiversity requires reliable evidence of the causes of extirpation. Using freshwater mussels as an example, we performed the first-ever systematic assessment of the evidence for endangerment of any group of organisms. We surveyed articles publishing conclusions about the cause of local extirpation by assessing the quality of evidence on an objective scale. We found that only 48% of studies presented plausible links between extirpation and causes. Analyses lacked resolution since more than 75% of all studies considered (n = 124) suggested multiple causes of extirpation. Studies performed over large areas and those presenting less evidence postulated the most causes. Despite the frequently weak evidence, there was substantial agreement on the identity of causes; the most frequent was habitat destruction or alteration but many others were postulated. Although mussel extirpation is undoubtedly real, the evidence could be stronger. In these animals and others, evidence of the causes of extirpation has often been circumstantial. We present a systematic approach ecologists can use to strengthen the evidence concerning the causes of extirpation. We also reflect on the link between the strength of evidence and research funding priorities.
|Translated title of the contribution||Suspects and evidence: A review of the causes of extirpation and decline in freshwater mussels|
|Number of pages||35|
|Journal||Animal Biodiversity and Conservation|
|State||Published - 2010|