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Species diversity as a surrogate for conservation of phylogenetic and functional diversity in terrestrial vertebrates across the Americas

Abstract

Preserving the evolutionary history and ecological functions that different species embody, in addition to species themselves, is a growing concern for conservation. Recent studies warn that conservation priority regions identified using species diversity differ from those based on phylogenetic or functional diversity. However, spatial mismatches in conservation priority regions need not indicate low surrogacy among these dimensions in conservation planning. Here, we use data for 10,213 terrestrial vertebrate species across the Americas to evaluate surrogacy; that is, the proportion of phylogenetic or functional diversity represented in conservation plans targeting species. We find that most conservation plans targeting species diversity also represent phylogenetic and functional diversity well, despite spatial mismatches in the priority regions identified by each plan. However, not all phylogenetic and functional diversity is represented within species-based plans, with the highest-surrogacy conservation strategy depending on the proportion of land area included in plans. Our results indicate that targeting species diversity could be sufficient to preserve much of the phylogenetic and functional dimensions of biodiversity in terrestrial vertebrates of the Americas. Incorporating phylogenetic and functional data in broad-scale conservation planning may not always be necessary, especially when the cost of doing so is high.

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Fig. 1: Species diversity is a good surrogate for phylogenetic and functional diversity in conservation plans for terrestrial vertebrates of the Americas.
Fig. 2: Value of species diversity as a surrogate for phylogenetic and functional diversity.
Fig. 3: Proportion of evolutionary and functional distinctiveness not represented within species-based conservation plans.

Data availability

Distribution and extinction risk data for amphibians, birds, mammals and most reptiles are available through the IUCN Red List (https://www.iucnredlist.org/resources/spatial-data-download; for amphibians, reptiles and mammals) and BirdLife International (http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/requestdis; for birds). Phylogenetic data are available through the TimeTree of Life project (http://www.timetree.org/). Trait data were obtained from a number of existing data sources listed in the Methods. Distribution and extinction risk data for some of the squamate species of South America and the Caribbean are currently being processed by IUCN and will be provided shortly in the same format as that used for the other taxa (http://www.iucnredlist.org and https://www.iucnredlist.org/resources/spatial-data-download). All analysis R code, processed input data and summary output files are available in a dedicated GitHub repository at https://github.com/giorap/surrogacy-among-biodiversity-dimensions.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation (grant 1136586). We thank the IUCN and the many herpetologists who participated in the Red List assessments of Central and South America reptiles.

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T.M.B., G.R. and C.H.G. designed the study with input from all other authors. G.R. and J.M. integrated and processed the datasets. G.R. conducted the analyses with input from T.M.B., C.H.G. and J.M. G.R. and T.M.B wrote the initial manuscript draft. All authors contributed to editing subsequent manuscript versions.

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Correspondence to Giovanni Rapacciuolo.

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Rapacciuolo, G., Graham, C.H., Marin, J. et al. Species diversity as a surrogate for conservation of phylogenetic and functional diversity in terrestrial vertebrates across the Americas. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 53–61 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0744-7

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