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Global priorities for conserving the evolutionary history of sharks, rays and chimaeras


In an era of accelerated biodiversity loss and limited conservation resources, systematic prioritization of species and places is essential. In terrestrial vertebrates, evolutionary distinctness has been used to identify species and locations that embody the greatest share of evolutionary history. We estimate evolutionary distinctness for a large marine vertebrate radiation on a dated taxon-complete tree for all 1,192 chondrichthyan fishes (sharks, rays and chimaeras) by augmenting a new 610-species molecular phylogeny using taxonomic constraints. Chondrichthyans are by far the most evolutionarily distinct of all major radiations of jawed vertebrates—the average species embodies 26 million years of unique evolutionary history. With this metric, we identify 21 countries with the highest richness, endemism and evolutionary distinctness of threatened species as targets for conservation prioritization. On average, threatened chondrichthyans are more evolutionarily distinct—further motivating improved conservation, fisheries management and trade regulation to avoid significant pruning of the chondrichthyan tree of life.

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Fig. 1: A representative taxon-complete tree with phylogenetic distribution of molecular data coverage.
Fig. 2: Expected and observed ED.
Fig. 3: Distribution of ED.
Fig. 4: Relationship between median ED and traits associated with elevated threat status.
Fig. 5: Species richness, endemism and ED patterns.
Fig. 6: Congruence, incongruence and location of the hotspots of three conservation metrics (richness, endemicity and upper quartile ED).


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We are grateful to A. J. Aberer for useful discussion of rogue taxon exclusion, D. Ebert and W. White for taxonomic guidance, G. J. P. Naylor, X. Vélez-Zauzo, A. Godknecht, M. Gollock, H. Koldewey and M. D’Angelo for research support, and B. Corrie and M. Siegert for computing access. We thank all IUCN Shark Specialist Group members and all additional experts who have contributed data and their expertise to IUCN Red List assessments. This work was carried out at the Interdisciplinary Research in Mathematics and Computer Sciences Centre, Simon Fraser University (, the Swiss Shark Foundation computing cluster and Compute Canada’s Westgrid computing network. This study was funded by Save Our Seas Foundation, Rufford Foundation, Zoological Society London, Natural Science and Engineering Research Council Discovery and Accelerator Awards, and Canada Research Chairs Program. Shark and ray silhouettes in Figs. 1, 2 and 4 were created by C.G.M from images by R. Aidan Martin; all silhouettes in Fig. 3 were created by M. Dando.

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N.K.D. and A.O.M. conceived and led the project, R.W.S., C.G.M., J.B.J., T.S.K., N.C.A., L.N.K.D. and A.O.M. designed the project. N.C.A., R.W.S., C.G.M., J.B.J., G.J.S. and L.N.K.D. acquired or provided data. R.W.S., T.S.K., J.B.J. and L.N.K.D. contributed essential code and analyses. R.W.S., C.G.M., L.N.K.D., N.K.D. and A.O.M. drafted and revised the paper. R.W.S. designed and led the phylogenetic work, C.G.M. supported the phylogenetic work and led the subsequent statistical analyses, and L.N.K.D. led the spatial analyses.

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Correspondence to Christopher G. Mull or Nicholas K. Dulvy or Arne O. Mooers.

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Master taxonomy dataset

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Accession dataset

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Fossil calibration dataset

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Mixed clade and tree modification dataset

Supplementary table 5

Vertebrate comparison dataset

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Recently described species dataset

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Polytomy resolver R script

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XML creator R script

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Stein, R.W., Mull, C.G., Kuhn, T.S. et al. Global priorities for conserving the evolutionary history of sharks, rays and chimaeras. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 288–298 (2018).

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