Ranking Mammal Species for Conservation and the Loss of Both Phylogenetic and Trait Diversity

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Redding DW, Mooers AO (2015) Ranking Mammal Species for Conservation and the Loss of Both Phylogenetic and Trait Diversity. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0141435. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141435

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Conservation genetics
Animal phylogenetics
Conservation science
Phylogenetic analysis
Endangered species
Species extinction

The 'edge of existence' (EDGE) prioritisation scheme is a new approach to rank species for conservation attention that aims to identify species that are both isolated on the tree of life and at imminent risk of extinction as defined by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The self-stated benefit of the EDGE system is that it effectively captures unusual 'unique' species, and doing so will preserve the total evolutionary history of a group into the future. Given the EDGE metric was not designed to capture total evolutionary history, we tested this claim. Our analyses show that the total evolutionary history of mammals preserved is indeed much higher if EDGE species are protected than if at-risk species are chosen randomly. More of the total tree is also protected by EDGE species than if solely threat status or solely evolutionary distinctiveness were used for prioritisation. When considering how much trait diversity is captured by IUCN and EDGE prioritisation rankings, interestingly, preserving the highest-ranked EDGE species, or indeed just the most threatened species, captures more total trait diversity compared to sets of randomly-selected at-risk species. These results suggest that, as advertised, EDGE mammal species contribute evolutionary history to the evolutionary tree of mammals non-randomly, and EDGE-style rankings among endangered species can also capture important trait diversity. If this pattern holds for other groups, the EDGE prioritisation scheme has greater potential to be an efficient method to allocate scarce conservation effort.

Document type: 
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA)
Systematics Association