A mathematically driven evolutionary snapshot of woody plants in four similar climates around the world has given scientists a fresh perspective on genetic diversity and threats posed by both extinctions and loss of habitat.
The message from the study, appearing online ahead of publication in Ecology Letters, says lead author Hlne Morlon, is that evolutionary diversity -- the millions of years of evolutionary innovations contained in present-day species -- is more sensitive to extinctions or loss of habitat than long thought. And that, she adds, means conservation efforts really need to take into consideration how species are evolutionarily related.
"We are all interested in preserving biodiversity," said Morlon, a French scientist formerly with the University of Oregon's Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as a postdoctoral researcher and now at the University of California, Berkeley. "This means trying to preserve the most species we can, but remembering that all species are not equal. None of us want to make choices on which species to preserve, but if we have to, we might be interested in preserving the species that are the most unique in evolutionary history. There are also other characteristics of species to consider, of course. Biodiversity is simply too complex to be summarized by a single number -- be it species richness or phylogenetic diversity."
Since conservation efforts take place within specific geographical or geopolitical areas, Morlon said: "It is important to understand how biodiversity is distributed spatially." To consider that, the researchers focused on plant species living within defined areas in Mediterranean-type regions around the world -- Australia, California, Chile and South Africa.
For 538 plant species, which covered 254 genera and 71 families, researchers built an evolutionary tree tracing them back to their common ancestor. They then applied mathematical approaches that cons
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University of Oregon