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201410Mar17:36

Tree of life’ dis­tances are no short­cut to conservation

Infor­ma­tion
pub­lished 10 March 2014 | mod­i­fied 10 March 2014
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Evo­lu­tion­ary dis­tances that con­ser­va­tion­ists use to iden­tify and tar­get dis­tinct species may be unre­li­able, Oxford Uni­ver­sity research suggests.

Tree of lifeSome con­ser­va­tion strate­gies assume that the evo­lu­tion­ary dis­tances between species on a phy­lo­ge­netic ‘tree of life’ can be used to pre­dict how diverse their bio­log­i­cal fea­tures will be. These dis­tances are then used to select which species to con­serve in order to max­imise inter­est­ing bio­log­i­cal fea­tures – such as poten­tially use­ful drug com­pounds and resilience to cli­mate change. A nice way to explore the Tree of Life can be expe­ri­enced on One­Zoom.

But a new analy­sis of data from 223 stud­ies of ani­mals, plants, and fungi, shows that meth­ods based on such dis­tances are often no bet­ter at con­serv­ing inter­est­ing bio­log­i­cal fea­tures than pick­ing species at ran­dom. A report of the research is pub­lished on 6 March in the jour­nal Diver­sity and Distributions.

What our work sug­gests is that we need bet­ter, more nuanced, meth­ods for iden­ti­fy­ing fea­ture diverse species to under­pin con­ser­va­tion strategies
Dr Robert Scot­land, Depart­ment of Plant Sci­ences, Oxford University »

“Whilst ‘close neigh­bours’ on the branches of the tree of life are likely to share more bio­log­i­cal fea­tures than dis­tant ones, we found that you only have to move a short dis­tance away before pre­dic­tions about how much more diverse an organism’s fea­tures should be are no bet­ter than a ran­dom choice,” said Dr Robert Scot­land. “Much of this may be down to par­al­lel or con­ver­gent evo­lu­tion that sees sim­i­lar bio­log­i­cal fea­tures – such as eyes and wings – evolv­ing inde­pen­dently again and again through­out the his­tory of life.”

The new analy­sis sug­gests that phy­lo­ge­netic dis­tance by itself is not an ade­quate way of pri­ori­tis­ing which organ­isms are most dis­sim­i­lar to tar­get for conservation.

“Max­imis­ing bio­log­i­cal fea­ture diver­sity is clearly impor­tant to con­ser­va­tion but you won’t achieve this if you don’t select the right range of species, and our study shows that you are unlikely to select the right range of species if you use phy­lo­ge­netic dis­tance,” said Dr Scot­land. “What our work sug­gests is that we need bet­ter, more nuanced, meth­ods for iden­ti­fy­ing fea­ture diverse species to under­pin con­ser­va­tion strategies.”



(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Oxford news release, 03.03.2014)



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