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).
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).
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).
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).