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Conserv Biol. 2008 Dec;22(6):1461-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01068.x. Epub 2008 Sep 15.

Threatened species and the potential loss of phylogenetic diversity: conservation scenarios based on estimated extinction probabilities and phylogenetic risk analysis.

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The Australian Museum, 6 College Street, Sydney, NSW 2010, Australia.


New species conservation strategies, including the EDGE of Existence (EDGE) program, have expanded threatened species assessments by integrating information about species' phylogenetic distinctiveness. Distinctiveness has been measured through simple scores that assign shared credit among species for evolutionary heritage represented by the deeper phylogenetic branches. A species with a high score combined with a high extinction probability receives high priority for conservation efforts. Simple hypothetical scenarios for phylogenetic trees and extinction probabilities demonstrate how such scoring approaches can provide inefficient priorities for conservation. An existing probabilistic framework derived from the phylogenetic diversity measure (PD) properly captures the idea of shared responsibility for the persistence of evolutionary history. It avoids static scores, takes into account the status of close relatives through their extinction probabilities, and allows for the necessary updating of priorities in light of changes in species threat status. A hypothetical phylogenetic tree illustrates how changes in extinction probabilities of one or more species translate into changes in expected PD. The probabilistic PD framework provided a range of strategies that moved beyond expected PD to better consider worst-case PD losses. In another example, risk aversion gave higher priority to a conservation program that provided a smaller, but less risky, gain in expected PD. The EDGE program could continue to promote a list of top species conservation priorities through application of probabilistic PD and simple estimates of current extinction probability. The list might be a dynamic one, with all the priority scores updated as extinction probabilities change. Results of recent studies suggest that estimation of extinction probabilities derived from the red list criteria linked to changes in species range sizes may provide estimated probabilities for many different species. Probabilistic PD provides a framework for single-species assessment that is well-integrated with a broader measurement of impacts on PD owing to climate change and other factors.

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