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Phylogenetic autocorrelation of extinction threat in globally imperilled amphibians


Correspondence: Sarah Corey, Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA. E-mail:


The global extinction crisis demands immediate action to conserve species at risk. However, if entire clades such as superfamilies are at risk due to shared evolutionary history, a shift towards conserving clades rather than individual species may be needed. Using phylogenetic autocorrelation analysis, we demonstrate that multiple kinds of extinction threat clump within the amphibian tree of life. Our study provides insight into how these threats may collectively influence the extinction risk of whole clades, consistent with the supposition that related species, with similar traits, share an intrinsic vulnerability to common kinds of threat. Most strikingly, we find a significant concentration of ‘enigmatic’ decline and critically endangered status within families of the hyloid frogs. This phylogenetic clumping of risk is also geographically concentrated, with most threats found in Central and South America, and Australia, coinciding with reported outbreaks of chytridiomycosis. We speculate that the phylogenetic clumping of threat represents, in part, shared extinction proneness due to shared evolutionary history. However, even if the phylogenetic clumping of threat were simply a by-product of shared geography, this concordance between phylogenetic and geographical patterns represents a prime opportunity. Where practical, we should implement conservation plans that focus on biogeographical regions where threatened clades occur, thereby improving our ability to conserve species. This approach could outperform the usual triage approach of saving individual species after they have become critically endangered.