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Keywords:

  • Community phylogenetics;
  • conservation;
  • distance–decay relationship;
  • evolutionary history;
  • Mediterranean-type ecosystems;
  • phylogenetic beta-diversity;
  • phylogenetic diversity;
  • spatial scaling;
  • species–area relationship

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 141–149

Abstract

Ecologists and conservation biologists have historically used species–area and distance–decay relationships as tools to predict the spatial distribution of biodiversity and the impact of habitat loss on biodiversity. These tools treat each species as evolutionarily equivalent, yet the importance of species’ evolutionary history in their ecology and conservation is becoming increasingly evident. Here, we provide theoretical predictions for phylogenetic analogues of the species–area and distance–decay relationships. We use a random model of community assembly and a spatially explicit flora dataset collected in four Mediterranean-type regions to provide theoretical predictions for the increase in phylogenetic diversity – the total phylogenetic branch-length separating a set of species – with increasing area and the decay in phylogenetic similarity with geographic separation. These developments may ultimately provide insights into the evolution and assembly of biological communities, and guide the selection of protected areas.