How much of the vertebrate diversity of sub-Saharan Africa is catered for by recent conservation proposals?

A database documenting the distribution of birds, mammals, amphibians and snakes across 1degrees latitude and longitude squares of mainland sub-Saharan Africa provides an opportunity to quantify how many of these vertebrates are potentially catered for by recent large-scale conservation proposals. Sets of priority areas proposed by BirdLife International, the World Wildlife Fund (USA), the World Conservation Union and the World Wide Fund for Nature, Conservation International, and the World Resources Institute contain between 45 and 93% of 3752 species of birds, mammals, snakes and amphibians breeding in this area. Gaps in the coverage of vertebrates were found in all large-scale proposals, and these are mapped. Most of the conservation proposals perform better than random selection of similar sized areas of Africa, with the proposals focused on species performing more efficiently than schemes based on large areas of intact habitat or process-related criteria. Four of the schemes approach the performance of a complementarity-based algorithm that aims to maximise the number of species captured within a given area of land, and which has been widely advocated as a tool for conservation planning. The reasons for this are discussed and the relevance of the results for conservation planning at coarse and fine scales are explained.