Decisions, Decisions! Using Evolution to Get the Most Bang From Your Conservation Buck (2 of 2)

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The following simplified example illustrates how phylogenetics can aid conservation efforts. Imagine that a government only has the resources to create a preserve in one of three river basins (A, B or C below), and a local biologist is hired to help choose the location of the preserve.

River Basin ARiver Basin BRiver Basin C


She discovers that each river basin happens to support four related fish species, among other organisms, and she constructs a phylogeny for that fish clade.

Phylogeny of related fish in river basins A, B and C

In this phylogeny, the vertical length of each branch indicates the amount of evolutionary change that occurred in that lineage. The four species in river basin A cluster in a tightly-knit clade, with little evolutionary differentiation among species, while river basin B supports a more diverse clade of fish—note the longer branches for clade B. River basin C, supports fish that are rather distantly related to one another and that have evolved in different directions.

Based on this information, the biologist might recommend preserving basin C since it supports a more diverse assemblage of species. But of course, in real life, many more considerations—such as the status of other organisms, whether the species are found only locally or are widely distributed, and the economic value of the area—are involved in making such decisions. Nonetheless, evolutionary history makes a more meaningful measure of biodiversity than mere species counts, and can help conservation efforts preserve more genetic, morphological, and ecological diversity.


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Why Preserve Biodiversity?

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