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Maximum levels of global phylogenetic diversity efficiently capture plant services for humankind


The divergent nature of evolution suggests that securing the human benefits that are directly provided by biodiversity may require counting on disparate lineages of the Tree of Life. However, quantitative evidence supporting this claim is still tenuous. Here, we draw on a global review of plant-use records demonstrating that maximum levels of phylogenetic diversity capture significantly greater numbers of plant-use records than random selection of taxa. Our study establishes an empirical foundation that links evolutionary history to human wellbeing, and it will serve as a discussion baseline to promote better-grounded accounts of the services that are directly provided by biodiversity.

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Fig. 1: Relative gain in plant-use records and equitability in their distribution among categories.
Fig. 2: Relative gains in plant-use records per category.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available at

Code availability

All the code used in this research is available as functions that were either implemented in published R packages or provided as supplementary material in a previous open-access study.


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We thank the Scientific Computation Center of Andalusia (CICA) for the computing services they provided and H. Lima for assistance in downloading plant distributional information from the web. This work was supported by the Regional Government of the Community of Madrid and the University of Alcalá through the project ‘Plant evolutionary history and human wellbeing in a changing world; assessing theoretical foundations using empirical evidence and new phylogenetic tools’, which was granted to R.M.-V. (CM/JIN/2019-005). R.M.-V. was supported by the TALENTO programme of the Regional Government of the Community of Madrid (2018-T2/AMB-10332). M.Á.R. was supported by the Ministry of Science and Innovation of Spain (grant CGL2017-86926-P).

Author information




R.M.-V. conceived the ideas, led the assemblage of the plant-use dataset with the help of M.P.S. and D.J.M., conducted the analyses and led the writing. C.R. led the assemblage of the continental datasets. M.Á.R. helped to design the structure of the draft. All the authors read, edited and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rafael Molina-Venegas.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Ecology & Evolution thanks Rainer Bussmann and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Relationship between the phylogenetic structure of plant-use categories and relative gains per category under the PDmax strategy.

The dotted lines represent the regression models between the phylogenetic structure of plant-use categories (SES scores of PD averaged across 100 phylogenetic hypotheses) and SES scores of the relative gains per category across different sample sizes (S = 20, 40, 60 and 80% of the total pool). All regressions were significant for a nominal alpha of 0.1%.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–10 and Tables 1, 2 and 5.

Reporting Summary

Peer Review Information

Supplementary Tables 3 and 4

Supplementary Table 3. List of genera included in the study. Supplementary Table 4. Most derived consensus clades (MDCCs) for the phylogenetically uncertain taxa (PUTs) of the analysis.

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Molina-Venegas, R., Rodríguez, M.Á., Pardo-de-Santayana, M. et al. Maximum levels of global phylogenetic diversity efficiently capture plant services for humankind. Nat Ecol Evol 5, 583–588 (2021).

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