Evolution meeting 2017, Portland, Oregon

Portland logoThe Evolution meeting starts tomorrow! (as if you didn’t already know…).  Unfortunately I won’t be there in person, however my former PhD supervisor, Simon Loader (Natural History Museum London) will present a poster based on the paper I mentioned in the last post. I am sure Simon would be more than happy to talk about amphibian evolution and conservation in East Africa if you are interested. The poster is in the Comparative phylogeography poster session on Saturday 24th June.


Environmental correlates of phylogenetic endemism in amphibians and the conservation of refugia in the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa

Our new paper is now available in early view in Diversity and Distributions here

With this work, my colleagues and I show how the inclusion of phylogenetic information for amphibians can help to identify priority areas for increased conservation efforts across Eastern Africa (Fig. 1).

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Fig. 1. The Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa (CFEA), with the adjacent Eastern Afromontane (EA) biodiversity hotspot

Although species are arguably the most fundamental measure of biodiversity on earth, they often contain high levels of genetic and morphological diversity across their geographic ranges. Even with common organisms we may often see striking patterns of  differentiation below the species level which is often overlooked, and is especially relevant for local and regional conservation efforts. So how can we incorporate this intra-specific diversity into conservation assessment and planning? When we have sufficient data, we can build a molecular phylogeny (an evolutionary tree) to resolve the relationships of species, and include the major lineages that make up each of these species. Combining the geographic distribution of each of these lineages and species with its corresponding branch length on the phylogeny we can highlight areas where large amounts of evolutionary history have accumulated (see Fig. 2).


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Fig. 2. A molecular phylogeny of species occurring in the coastal forests of Eastern Africa including species and intraspecific lineages, and a map of evolutionary history (PE) created by combining phylogenetic information with geographic data


This is the theoretical basis of our new paper, where we applied these methods for close to the full assemblage of coastal forest species across Tanzania and Kenya, leading to the compilation of the largest available genetic and geographic datasets to date. We hypothesised that many of the evolutionary hotspots in this region are important refugia for biodiversity in times of past climate change, and our results support the idea that long term climatic stability, benign current climate and topographic heterogeneity facilitate the persistence of evolutionary history (Fig. 4).

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Fig. 4. Model contributions in the best GLM to explain PE

Finally, by intersecting our maps with the current protected area network we established that much of the region’s evolutionary history is poorly protected, and several areas should be prioritised for conservation in the future (Fig. 5).

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Fig. 5. PE hotspots  intersected with the protected area network, showing the low levels of protection for much of the region’s amphibian evolutionary history