Global Distribution and Conservation of Evolutionary Distinctness in Birds

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Authors: Jetz, W; Thomas, GH; Joy, JB; Redding, DW; Hartmann, K; Mooers, AO
Year: 2014
Journal: Current Biology 24: 919-930   Article Link (DOI)
Title: Global Distribution and Conservation of Evolutionary Distinctness in Birds
Abstract: Background: Integrated, efficient, and global prioritization approaches are necessary to manage the ongoing loss of species and their associated function. "Evolutionary distinctness" measures a species' contribution to the total evolutionary history of its clade and is expected to capture uniquely divergent genomes and functions. Here we demonstrate how such a metric identifies species and regions of particular value for safeguarding evolutionary diversity. Results: Among the world's 9,993 recognized bird species, evolutionary distinctness is very heterogeneously distributed on the phylogenetic tree and varies little with range size or threat level. Species representing the most evolutionary history over the smallest area (those with greatest "evolutionary distinctness rarity") as well as some of the most imperiled distinct species are often concentrated outside the species-rich regions and countries, suggesting they may not be well captured by current conservation planning. We perform global cross-species and spatial analyses and generate minimum conservation sets to assess the benefits of the presented species-level metrics. We find that prioritizing imperiled species by their evolutionary distinctness and geographic rarity is a surprisingly effective and spatially economical way to maintain the total evolutionary information encompassing the world's birds. We identify potential conservation gaps in relation to the existing reserve network that in particular highlight islands as effective priority areas. Conclusions: The presented distinctness metrics are effective yet easily communicable and versatile tools to assist objective global conservation decision making. Given that most species will remain ecologically understudied, combining growing phylogenetic and spatial data may be an efficient way to retain vital aspects of biodiversity.
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