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The California Hotspots Project: identifying regions of rapid diversification of mammals


Edward Davis, Fax: (510) 643-8238; E-mail:


The high rate of anthropogenic impact on natural systems mandates protection of the evolutionary processes that generate and sustain biological diversity. Environmental drivers of diversification include spatial heterogeneity of abiotic and biotic agents of divergent selection, features that suppress gene flow, and climatic or geological processes that open new niche space. To explore how well such proxies perform as surrogates for conservation planning, we need first to map areas with rapid diversification —‘evolutionary hotspots’. Here we combine estimates of range size and divergence time to map spatial patterns of neo-endemism for mammals of California, a global biodiversity hotspot. Neo-endemism is explored at two scales: (i) endemic species, weighted by the inverse of range size and mtDNA sequence divergence from sisters; and (ii) as a surrogate for spatial patterns of phenotypic divergence, endemic subspecies, again using inverse-weighting of range size. The species-level analysis revealed foci of narrowly endemic, young taxa in the central Sierra Nevada, northern and central coast, and Tehachapi and Peninsular Ranges. The subspecies endemism-richness analysis supported the last four areas as hotspots for diversification, but also highlighted additional coastal areas (Monterey to north of San Francisco Bay) and the Inyo Valley to the east. We suggest these hotspots reflect the major processes shaping mammal neo-endemism: steep environmental gradients, biotic admixture areas, and areas with recent geological/climate change. Anthropogenic changes to both environment and land use will have direct impacts on regions of rapid divergence. However, despite widespread changes to land cover in California, the majority of the hotspots identified here occur in areas with relatively intact ecological landscapes. The geographical scope of conserving evolutionary process is beyond the scale of any single agency or nongovernmental organization. Choosing which land to closely protect and/or purchase will always require close coordination between agencies.