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Comparative phylogeography and the identification of genetically divergent areas for conservation


C. Moritz Fax: +61-7-3365-1655; E-mail:


Genetic diversity is recognized as a fundamental component of biodiversity and its protection is incorporated in several conventions and policies. However, neither the concepts nor the methods for assessing conservation value of the spatial distribution of genetic diversity have been resolved. Comparative phylogeography can identify suites of species that have a common history of vicariance. In this study we explore the strengths and limitations of Faith’s measure of ‘Phylogenetic Diversity’ (PD) as a method for predicting from multiple intraspecific phylogeographies the underlying feature diversity represented by combinations of areas. An advantage of the PD approach is that information on the spatial distribution of genetic diversity can be combined across species and expressed in a form that allows direct comparison with patterns of species distributions. It also seeks to estimate the same parameter, feature diversity, regardless of the level of biological organization. We extend the PD approach by using Venn diagrams to identify the components of PD, including those unique to or shared among areas and those which represent homoplasy on an area tree or which are shared across all areas. PD estimation should be complemented by analysis of these components and inspection of the contributing phylogeographies. We illustrate the application of the approach using mtDNA phylogeographies from vertebrates resident in the wet tropical rainforests of north-east Queensland and compare the results to biodiversity assessments based on the distribution of endemic vertebrate species. The genetic vs. species approaches produce different assessments of conservation value, perhaps reflecting differences in the temporal and spatial scale of the determining processes. The two approaches should be seen as complementary and, in this case, conservation planning should incorporate information on both dimensions of biodiversity.

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