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  What are Conservation Needs Assessments?

Background 
Conservation resources are limited, and with thousands of threatened species in need of help, the Conservation Needs Assessment process managed by Amphibian Ark seeks to objectively and consistently identify priority species and their immediate conservation needs.

The Conservation Needs Assessment process was initially developed in 2006, during an Amphibian Ex Situ Conservation Planning workshop in El Valle de Anton, Panama, when a taxon selection and prioritization working group developed a decision tree for the selection and prioritization of species that are most in need of ex situ (captive) assistance. The decision tree has subsequently been further reviewed and refined, and has now evolved into the Amphibian Ark Conservation Needs Assessment process, which now generates prioritized recommendations for both in situ (in the wild) and ex situ conservation actions. The assessment process has proven to be a logical, transparent, and repeatable procedure for guiding amphibian conservation activities within a country or region.

Between 2007 and the end of 2014, Amphibian Ark staff have facilitated workshops to assess the conservation needs of 3,375 (46%) of the world’s amphibian species at 26 national or regional workshops. With funding for physical workshops becoming more and more scarce, the decision was made to build an online application to replicate the assessment process as a solution for ensuring assessments could continue. In late 2014 a new, online assessment program was developed, and all previous assessments were migrated into the online database.

The conservation needs assessment tool has been structured in two sections: The first section concerns assessing species for both in situ and ex situ conservation actions - i.e. with limited resources (space, staff, money etc.) which species should have ex situ programs established ahead of others; which species urgently need field research or protection, etc. It takes the form of a series of questions with weighted scores. The total score for a species determines its priority for conservation action.

The second section includes questions ensuring that there is authorization for any proposed ex situ conservation program, and that founder animals are available. Some questions may not be straightforward to answer and will require consultation with colleagues, taxonomic experts and other individuals/groups working with the species.

The information provided in sections one and two is then used to categorize each species for one or more conservation actions. A series of reports is available for each conservation action, and these are then used to guide the next steps required for the conservation of each species. At the national level, this is most often a National Action Plan for the group of species being assessed (e.g. Amphibians). Conservation practitioners are then able to focus their efforts and resources on the species and environments that are most in need of help, and are likely to benefit the most from those efforts.

The Conservation Needs Assessment process has been an evolving protocol. The criteria and their rankings have been adjusted as experience with the process was gained, and we continue to work with the broader conservation community to identify goals, threats, and conservation options. Assessments and prioritization of individual species are reviewed and updated as we gain knowledge and as the threats to each species change. Thus, there will be a need to constantly assess species status and monitor threats, so that emerging critical situations are responded to sufficiently quickly.

Online assessments
Prior to the development of this online application, Conservation Needs Assessments were generally carried out during physical workshops where scientists, field biologists, animal husbandry experts and other stakeholders met, and worked as a single group to assess all of the species of a given Class (e.g. amphibians), in the particular country or region. This process results in a single assessment for each species for each of the countries that the species occurs in. Using this online application multiple assessors will work independently from each other, to assess species, and generate subsequent conservation recommendations. If multiple assessments exist for the same species in the same countries, they will be consolidated, to give a final, single set of recommended conservation actions for each species.

From early 2015 onwards, national conservation needs assessments can now be undertaken either during a physical workshop or by using the online program. Assessments from previous workshops can also be reviewed and updated using the online process. The online program will be used during any future workshop-based assessments, so all new and updated assessments from this point on will be available online.

Advantages and disadvantages of both the workshop and the online method of assessment are discussed on the Planning a national assessment page, along with suggestions for planning national assessments.

Most often, national IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) Chairs will help to coordinate the assessment of all amphibian species in their country over a relatively short time period, with the subsequent assessments and recommendations for conservation actions being used as the basis for the development of a national amphibian action plan.

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