Different facets of biodiversity other than species numbers are increasingly appreciated as critical for maintaining the function of ecosystems and their services to humans1,2. While new international policy and assessment processes such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) recognize the importance of an increasingly global, quantitative and comprehensive approach to biodiversity protection, most insights are still focused on a single facet of biodiversity—species3. Here we broaden the focus and provide an evaluation of how much of the world’s species, functional and phylogenetic diversity of birds and mammals is currently protected and the scope for improvement. We show that the large existing gaps in the coverage for each facet of diversity could be remedied by a slight expansion of protected areas: an additional 5% of the land has the potential to more than triple the protected range of species or phylogenetic or functional units. Further, the same areas are often priorities for multiple diversity facets and for both taxa. However, we find that the choice of conservation strategy has a fundamental effect on outcomes. It is more difficult (that is, requires more land) to maximize basic representation of the global biodiversity pool than to maximize local diversity. Overall, species and phylogenetic priorities are more similar to each other than they are to functional priorities, and priorities for the different bird biodiversity facets are more similar than those of mammals. Our work shows that large gains in biodiversity protection are possible, while also highlighting the need to explicitly link desired conservation objectives and biodiversity metrics. We provide a framework and quantitative tools to advance these goals for multi-faceted biodiversity conservation.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Nature Communications Open Access 06 November 2023
Nature Communications Open Access 31 October 2023
A conservation planning strategy applied to the evolutionary history of the mantellid frogs of Madagascar
npj Biodiversity Open Access 16 October 2023
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 / 30 days
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 51 print issues and online access
$199.00 per year
only $3.90 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Cadotte, M. W., Carscadden, K. & Mirotchnick, N. Beyond species: functional diversity and the maintenance of ecological processes and services. J. Appl. Ecol. 48, 1079–1087 (2011)
Faith, D. P. Conservation evaluation and phylogenetic diversity. Biol. Conserv. 61, 1–10 (1992)
Winter, M., Devictor, V. & Schweiger, O. Phylogenetic diversity and nature conservation: where are we? Trends Ecol. Evol. 28, 199–204 (2013)
Montesino Pouzols, F. et al. Global protected area expansion is compromised by projected land-use and parochialism. Nature 516, 383–386 (2014)
Butchart, S. H. M . et al. Protecting important sites for biodiversity contributes to meeting global conservation targets. PLoS One 7, e32529 (2012)
Mazel, F. et al. Multifaceted diversity-area relationships reveal global hotspots of mammalian species, trait and lineage diversity. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 23, 836–847 (2014)
Jetz, W., Thomas, G. H., Joy, J. B., Hartmann, K. & Mooers, A. O. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature 491, 444–448 (2012)
Strecker, A. L., Olden, J. D., Whittier, J. B. & Paukert, C. P. Defining conservation priorities for freshwater fishes according to taxonomic, functional, and phylogenetic diversity. Ecol. Appl. 21, 3002–3013 (2011)
Flynn, D. F., Mirotchnick, N., Jain, M., Palmer, M. I. & Naeem, S. Functional and phylogenetic diversity as predictors of biodiversity–ecosystem-function relationships. Ecology 92, 1573–1581 (2011)
Belmaker, J. & Jetz, W. Relative roles of ecological and energetic constraints, diversification rates and region history on global species richness gradients. Ecol. Lett. 18, 563–571 (2015)
Lamanna, C. et al. Functional trait space and the latitudinal diversity gradient. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 13745–13750 (2014)
May, R. M. Taxonomy as destiny. Nature 347, 129–130 (1990)
Asmyhr, M. G., Linke, S., Hose, G. & Nipperess, D. A. Systematic conservation planning for groundwater ecosystems using phylogenetic diversity. PLoS One 9, e115132 (2014)
Pollock, L. J. et al. Phylogenetic diversity meets conservation policy: small areas are key to preserving eucalypt lineages. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 370, 20140007 (2015)
Jetz, W. et al. Global distribution and conservation of evolutionary distinctness in birds. Curr. Biol. 24, 919–930 (2014)
Arponen, A., Moilanen, A. & Ferrier, S. A successful community-level strategy for conservation prioritization. J. Appl. Ecol. 45, 1436–1445 (2008)
Petchey, O. L. & Gaston, K. J. Functional diversity (FD), species richness and community composition. Ecol. Lett. 5, 402–411 (2002)
Thuiller, W. et al. Conserving the functional and phylogenetic trees of life of European tetrapods. Phil. Trans. R Soc. B 370, 20140005 (2015)
Keil, P., Storch, D. & Jetz, W. On the decline of biodiversity due to area loss. Nat. Commun. 6, 8837 (2015)
Kirkpatrick, J. B. An iterative method for establishing priorities for the selection of nature reserves–an example from Tasmania. Biol. Conserv. 25, 127–134 (1983)
Venter, O. et al. Targeting global protected area expansion for imperiled biodiversity. PLoS Biol. 12, e1001891 (2014)
Rodrigues, A. S. L., Brooks, T. M. & Gaston, K. J. in Phylogeny and Conservation (eds Purvis, A., Gittleman, J. L. & Brooks, T. M. ) (Cambridge University Press, 2005)
Rodrigues, A. S. L. & Gaston, K. J. Maximising phylogenetic diversity in the selection of networks of conservation areas. Biol. Conserv. 105, 103–111 (2002)
Gravel, D., Albouy, C. & Thuiller, W. The meaning of functional trait composition of food webs for ecosystem functioning. Phil. Trans. R Soc. B 371, 20150268 (2016)
Albuquerque, F. & Beier, P. Global patterns and environmental correlates of high-priority conservation areas for vertebrates. J. Biogeogr. 42, 1397–1405 (2015)
Faith, D. P. & Pollock, L. J. in Applied Ecology and Human Dimensions in Biological Conservation (eds Verdade, L. M., Lyra-Jorge, M. C. & Piña, C. I. ) 35–52 (Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2014)
Mazel, F. et al. Mammalian phylogenetic diversity-area relationships at a continental scale. Ecology 96, 2814–2822 (2015)
Crisp, M. D., Laffan, S., Linder, H. P. & Monro, A. Endemism in the Australian flora. J. Biogeogr. 28, 183–198 (2001)
Rosauer, D., Laffan, S. W., Crisp, M. D., Donnellan, S. C. & Cook, L. G. Phylogenetic endemism: a new approach for identifying geographical concentrations of evolutionary history. Mol. Ecol. 18, 4061–4072 (2009)
Dornelas, M. et al. Assemblage time series reveal biodiversity change but not systematic loss. Science 344, 296–299 (2014)
Egoh, B., Reyers, B., Rouget, M., Bode, M. & Richardson, D. M. Spatial congruence between biodiversity and ecosystem services in South Africa. Biol. Conserv. 142, 553–562 (2009)
Fritz, S. A. & Purvis, A. Phylogenetic diversity does not capture body size variation at risk in the world’s mammals. Proc. Biol. Sci. 277, 2435–2441 (2010)
Cardillo, M. et al. Multiple causes of high extinction risk in large mammal species. Science 309, 1239–1241 (2005)
Jetz, W. & Fine, P. V. Global gradients in vertebrate diversity predicted by historical area-productivity dynamics and contemporary environment. PLoS Biol. 10, e1001292 (2012)
Hurlbert, A. H. & Jetz, W. Species richness, hotspots, and the scale dependence of range maps in ecology and conservation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 13384–13389 (2007)
Jetz, W., Sekercioglu, C. H. & Watson, J. E. M. Ecological correlates and conservation implications of overestimating species geographic ranges. Conserv. Biol. 22, 110–119 (2008)
Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. et al. The delayed rise of present-day mammals. Nature 446, 507–512 (2007)
Fritz, S. A., Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. & Purvis, A. Geographical variation in predictors of mammalian extinction risk: big is bad, but only in the tropics. Ecol. Lett. 12, 538–549 (2009)
Kuhn, T. S., Mooers, A. Ø. & Thomas, G. H. A simple polytomy resolver for dated phylogenies. Methods Ecol. Evol. 2, 427–436 (2011)
Wilman, H. et al. EltonTraits 1.0: Species-level foraging attributes of the world’s birds and mammals. Ecology 95, 2027 (2014)
Pavoine, S., Vallet, J., Dufour, A.-B., Gachet, S. & Daniel, H. On the challenge of treating various types of variables: application for improving the measurement of functional diversity. Oikos 118, 391–402 (2009)
Moilanen, A. et al. The Zonation framework and software for conservation prioritization v. 4, User Manual. (2014)
Moilanen, A. et al. Zonation spatial conservation planning framework and software v. 3.1. (2012)
Moilanen, A. et al. Prioritizing multiple-use landscapes for conservation: methods for large multi-species planning problems. Proc. Biol. Sci. 272, 1885–1891 (2005)
Moilanen, A. Landscape zonation, benefit functions and target-based planning: unifying reserve selection strategies. Biol. Conserv. 134, 571–579 (2007)
Thanks to D. Rosauer for comments and F. Mazel for help with analyses. L.J.P. acknowledges funding from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under REA grant agreement no. 659422. W.T. acknowledges support from the European Research Council (ERC-2011-StG-281422-TEEMBIO). W.J. acknowledges support from NSF DEB 1441737, DBI 1262600, DEB 1558568, NASA NNX11AP72G, and the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Reviewer Information Nature thanks P. Kareiva, P. Visconti and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Extended data figures and tables
Extended Data Figure 1 Which method is best for protecting diversity and how does the threshold for protection change the outcomes? Spatial conservation algorithms versus selecting the most diverse areas (diversity hotspots) for protection.
a–c, Bird (a, c) and mammal (b) diversity. Bars show how much of each metric is currently protected (grey) compared to how much could be protected with a 5% expansion in protected areas (colours) and the total possible (white). Protected areas are expanded by selecting the most diverse 5% of cells (Expand-Diversity) or spatial prioritizations that use the conservation principles of irreplaceability and complementarity. Priorities are shown for the maximizing global diversity (Expand-Global) and maximizing local diversity (Expand-Local) approaches. For the metrics that require a cell threshold, c shows how much diversity is protected for birds in each scenario if a more stringent threshold of three cells protected (instead of the single-cell threshold used in a, b) is used. Species/phylogenetic/functional branches that occur in less than three cells are considered protected if all of their distribution is protected (for example, they occur in two cells and both are protected). Increasing the cell-based threshold substantially decreases the amount of diversity currently considered protected (77% of species protected for 1-cell versus 60% for 3-cell), but the rate of diversity increase with protected area expansion is steeper, meaning that this difference is partly made up for in a 5% expansion (90% of species could end up protected at the 3-cell threshold).
Extended Data Figure 2 The outcome of protected area expansion for species, phylogenetic and functional prioritizations for different sets of bird and mammal species.
The percentage of the total range occurrences protected (that is, the average spatial range of species that is protected) are shown for each species set: all bird or mammal species; species with the greatest evolutionary distinctiveness (top 10%); the most functionally distinct species (top 10%); the rarest species (top 10% most rare); species that are evolutionarily distinct and rare; and functionally distinct and rare species. Outcomes with the maximizing local diversity objective are shown in a for the full species sets, and maximizing global diversity for rare species in b.
Extended Data Figure 3 Priorities for expanding protected areas to benefit the bird versus mammal phylogenetic and functional trees of life.
a–l, Phylogenetic (a–f) and functional (g–l) trees of life are presented separately. a, d, g, j, Biodiversity gain is measured with per cent phylogenetic diversity (a, d) or per cent functional diversity (g, j) protected in at least one cell for the maximize global diversity objective, and per cent of the spatial range of occurrences protected (that is, the spatial representation of the functional or phylogenetic tree of life) for the maximize local diversity objective. Solid lines are gains from the actual layout of protected areas, and dotted lines indicate the hypothetical case that both the new and existing protected area network were designed for this objective. b, e, h, k, Graphs of the spatial match in priorities for birds versus mammals with protected area expansion scenarios. c, f, i, l, Maps showing the priority areas for each group (bird priority only, mammal priority only, birds and mammals priority) for a 5% expansion scenario.
a–d, Maximize global diversity (a, c) and maximise local diversity (b, d) strategies and their effect on different priorities for birds and mammals (across 100 phylogenies and 100 species replicates each). Graphs show the diversity that could be added into protection with an increase in land area protected for species (grey lines) and phylogenetic prioritizations (blue lines). ‘% Global PD Protected’ is the sum of phylogenetic branches (weighted by branch length) protected in at least one cell, and ‘% SD Prot’ is the number of species protected in at least one cell (both metrics expressed as a percentage of total possible diversity). Rare diversity is also considered. The ‘%Range Rare Species’ is the average spatial distribution that is protected for the rarest species (the rarest 10%) and the ‘% Range Rare Phylo’ is the average spatial distribution of the rarest phylogenetic branches (rarest 10%) that are protected (weighted by the branch length). For the local objective (b), the tree of life is represented spatially as the per cent of the spatial range of the phylogeny that is protected ‘% Range Phylo Protected’ and species are represented as the average per cent of the spatial range of species ‘% Range Species Protected’ that are protected. Maps (c, d) show the similarities and differences in the top priorities for species and phylogenetic diversity for birds and mammals separately. The top priority is defined as cells that were consistently in the top 5% priority for protected area expansion across all species or phylogenetic runs.
Extended Data Figure 5 Uncertainty in species and functional priorities for birds and mammals for the maximize global diversity strategy.
a, Graphs show the diversity that could be added into protection with an increase in land in protection for species (grey lines) and functional prioritizations with all traits considered (dark blue lines). Light blue lines represent trait dendrograms constructed without one trait (activity time, diet, foraging height and body mass). The ‘% Global FD Protected’ is the sum of functional branches (weighted by branch length) protected in at least one cell, and ‘% Global SD Protected’ is the number of species protected in at least one cell (both metrics expressed as a % of total possible diversity). FD, functional diversity; SD, species diversity. Rare diversity is also considered. The ‘% Range Rare Species Prot.’ shows the average spatial distribution that is protected for the rarest species (the rarest 10%) and the ‘% Range Rare Funct. Prot.’ is the average spatial distribution of the rarest functional branches (rarest 10%) that are protected (weighted by the branch length). Maps show how priorities change (or remain the same) when all traits are used (b) and when body mass is removed from consideration (c). Note that trait sensitivity to choice of traits was much lower with the local objective than for the global objective, and that spatial priorities are nearly identical. Additional results and/or graphs are available from the authors upon request.
a–c, Uncertainty in definitions for birds from all IUCN categories with a 17% area threshold (a) and IUCN categories I–IV with a 10% (b) and 50% (c) threshold. Protected area thresholds are defined as those that have at least x% of the cell area in defined IUCN categories. Graphs show the diversity that could be added into protection with an extra 5% of the land area for species (blue) or phylogenies (green) and for ‘maximize local diversity’ or ‘maximize global diversity’ objectives. ‘% Global Diversity Protected’ is the sum of species or phylogenetic branches (weighted by branch length) protected in at least one cell (both metrics expressed as a percentage of total possible diversity). Rare diversity graphs show the average spatial distribution that is protected for the rarest 10% of species or the average spatial distribution of the rarest 10% of phylogenetic branches that are protected (weighted by the branch length). The ‘% Range Protected’ is the average per cent of the spatial range of species or phylogenetic branches (weighted by the branch length) that is protected. Maps show the top priorities (that is, the top 5%) for bird species, phylogenetic diversity, and the match between the two.
Extended Data Figure 7 Maps of weighted endemism (species, phylogenetic, and functional) for birds and mammals and comparisons between rankings produced by selecting grid cells with the highest endemism values for each biodiversity facet.
a, b, Weighted endemism maps for birds (a) and mammals (b) show the raw values of species weighted endemism, phylogenetic endemism and functional endemism. Maps of ranked endemism are calculated by selecting the top 5% of grid cells that have the highest weighted endemism values for each facet and that are not already protected. Colours indicate whether the grid cell is in the top 5% for one, two or all facets. For additional maps see https://mol.org/patterns/facets.
About this article
Cite this article
Pollock, L., Thuiller, W. & Jetz, W. Large conservation gains possible for global biodiversity facets. Nature 546, 141–144 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22368
This article is cited by
Nature Communications (2023)
A conservation planning strategy applied to the evolutionary history of the mantellid frogs of Madagascar
npj Biodiversity (2023)
Nature Communications (2023)
Nature Ecology & Evolution (2023)
Drivers of Ecological Condition Identify Bright Spots and Sites for Management Across Coastal Seascapes
Estuaries and Coasts (2023)