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

Nature Ecology & Evolutionvolume 3pages5361 (2019) | Download Citation


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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Data availability

Distribution and extinction risk data for amphibians, birds, mammals and most reptiles are available through the IUCN Red List (; for amphibians, reptiles and mammals) and BirdLife International (; for birds). Phylogenetic data are available through the TimeTree of Life project ( 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 ( and All analysis R code, processed input data and summary output files are available in a dedicated GitHub repository at

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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.

Author information


  1. Life and Environmental Sciences, University of California Merced, Merced, CA, USA

    • Giovanni Rapacciuolo
  2. NatureServe, Arlington, VA, USA

    • Giovanni Rapacciuolo
    •  & Bruce E. Young
  3. Department of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University, New York, NY, USA

    • Giovanni Rapacciuolo
    •  & Catherine H. Graham
  4. Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape, Birmensdorf, Switzerland

    • Catherine H. Graham
  5. Center for Biodiversity, Department of Biology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

    • Julie Marin
    • , Jocelyn E. Behm
    • , S. Blair Hedges
    •  & Matthew R. Helmus
  6. Institut de Systématique, Evolution, Biodiversité, UMR 7205, Département Systématique et Evolution, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Sorbonne-Universités, Paris, France

    • Julie Marin
  7. Department of Biology, Auburn University at Montgomery, Montgomery, AL, USA

    • Gabriel C. Costa
  8. SILVIS Lab, Department of Forestry and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA

    • Volker C. Radeloff
  9. International Union for Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland

    • Thomas M. Brooks
  10. World Agroforestry Center, University of the Philippines Los Baños, Los Baños, Philippines

    • Thomas M. Brooks
  11. Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

    • Thomas M. Brooks


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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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Giovanni Rapacciuolo.

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