Aim To incorporate evolutionary processes into conservation planning using species distribution patterns and environmental gradients as surrogates for genetic diversity.
Location Western Mediterranean Basin.
Methods Distributions of 154 herpetological species were predicted using maximum entropy models, and groups of significantly co-occurring species (biotic elements) were identified. Environmental gradients were characterized for the complete area and for the area covered by each biotic element, by performing a principal component analysis on the data matrix composed of nine environmental variables. The first two principal component analysis axes were classified into four categories each, and those categories were combined with each other resulting in an environmental classification with 16 categories. To identify priority conservation areas, biotic elements and environmental categories were used as surrogates for the neutral and adaptive components of genetic diversity, respectively. Priority areas for conservation were identified under three scenarios: (1) setting targets for species only; (2) setting targets for species and for each environmental category of the overall area; and (3) setting targets for each species and for each environmental category within each biotic element.
Results Nine biotic elements were identified – four for the amphibians and five for the reptiles. Priority areas identified in the three scenarios were similar in terms of amount of area selected, but exhibited low spatial agreement.
Main conclusions Prioritization exercises that integrate surrogates for evolutionary processes can deliver spatial priorities that are fairly different to those where only species representation is considered. While new methods are emerging to incorporate molecular data in conservation prioritization, it is unlikely to be enough data for enough taxa for this to be feasible in many regions. We develop an approach using surrogates for both the neutral and adaptive components of genetic diversity that may enhance biodiversity persistence and representation when molecular data are not available or geographically comprehensive.