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Keywords:

  • biodiversity;
  • option value;
  • phylogenetics;
  • phylogenetic diversity.

The value of biodiversity lies in its option value for the future, the greater the complement of contemporary biodiversity conserved today, the greater the possibilities for future biodiversity because of the diverse genetic resource needed to ensure continued evolution in a changing and uncertain world. From this perspective, biodiversity option value can be equated with richness in the different features expressed by species. An individual species of greater value is one contributing more novel features to a given subset. The feature diversity of species and communities is difficult to estimate directly, but can be predicted by the phylogenetic relationships among the species. The ‘Phylogenetic Diversity’ measure (PD) (Faith, 1992a) estimates the relative feature diversity of any nominated set of species by the sum of the lengths of all those branches spanned by the set. These branch lengths reflect patristic or path-length distances. This study first reviews and expands on some of the properties of PD, and develops simple modifications of the measure (δnPD and enPD) to enable capture of both the phylogenetic relatedness of species and their abundances in each sample. Then the application of PD, δnPD and enPD to a wide range of conservation and resource management issues is demonstrated using avian case studies. Supertree construction procedures (matrix representation using parsimony analysis; average consensus) were used to combine the extensive DNA-DNA hybridization tree of Sibley & Ahlquist (1990) with numerous, recently published phylogenetic reconstructions to derive a phylogenetic tree for the global avian fauna. Using this supertree as a systematic framework, the utility of PD was demonstrated in four case studies: (i) state of the environment reporting, with changes in avian faunas resulting from extinctions quantified as indicators of the state of biodiversity at Global, New Zealand and Waikato region scales, and changes in available habitat quantified as indicators of pressures on biodiversity in the Waikato region; (ii) setting priorities for threatened species management, with PD as a measure of option value integrated with information on survivorship expectations to develop a ranking among threatened New Zealand forest bird species; (iii) monitoring biotic response to management, with data from 5-minute counts used to analyse changes in forest bird communities under three management regimes in New Zealand; and (iv) selection of indicator species, with PD used to objectively identify subsets of species in the Global, New Zealand and Waikato avian faunas that comprise a high proportion of the option value in those faunas.