“Our paper tests a fundamental component of conservation biology we refer to as the ‘phylogenetic gambit,'” says Pearse, assistant professor in USU’s Department of Biology and the USU Ecology Center. “That is, conservation biologists often use species’ evolutionary history – their phylogeny – to identify groups of species to save.”
This idea is based on the assumption that preserving phylogenetic diversity among species preserves more functional diversity than selecting species to preserve by chance. Functional diversity is important, Pearse says, because it drives ecosystem health and productivity.
“Yet measuring the effectiveness of functional diversity is difficult,” he says. “So using phylogenetic diversity as a surrogate for functional diversity has made conservation biology much easier and more effective.”
In global datasets of mammals, birds and tropical fishes, the team demonstrates that, for the most part, the phylogenetic gambit holds. Preserving phylogenetic diversity preserves 18 percent more functional diversity than would be expected if species to save were selected at random.