Evolutionary Distinctness

The EDGE of Existence program is a conservation program guided by a straightforward combination of two characteristics, evolutionary distinctness (ED) and global endangerment (GE); simply put, it prioritizes for phylogenetic rarity/uniqueness, and threat status (Isaac et al. 2007; Collen et al. 2011). ED is a species-level prioritisation that weighs each species by its relative importance with regards to the unique evolutionary history it represents as a consequence of its specific phylogenetic history. The calculation of ED is essentially distributing the amount of shared ancestry from the root to tip of a phylogenetic tree by hierarchically distributing each branch's length equally to all of its subtending branches, thus accumulating evolutionary history up to the species level. This is calculated by taking the branch length and dividing by the number of species leading up to that branch, and then the ED of a species is the sum of these values for all branches from which the species is descended (Isaac et al. 2007).

For including global endangerment, the EDGE score adds the global IUCN assessment criteria by adding a quasi-probability of extinction associated with a doubling of extinction risk with increasing threat category (Isaac et al. 2012). However, the IUCN criteria include a wide, varied assortment of factors to determine the threat status of every species in the world. While some aspects of the criteria are standardized and quantified, others are somewhat equivocal terminology, ultimately based on expert opinion, particularly so when data is lacking (IUCN 2013).

Spatial Analysis

The importance of habitat to animals cannot be overstated, particularly when their long-term survival is at stake. It is important to take advantage of high-resolution habitat data and furthermore, to analyse and quantify the available space (Kerr and Ostrovsky 2003; Gillespie et al. 2008; Kearney and Porter 2009). By first focusing on the spatial aspects of a threat status, we may better assess what is often the main driver of species' extinction. Then conservation areas can target protection of those species with rare traits that are simultaneously habitat-limited.

With access to environmental data that fundamentally shapes species distributions, we now have the possibility to reveal what we need to prioritize through modelling (Moilanen et al. 2009). Major conservation tools often focus on protecting either particular species or specific areas. Good examples of species prioritisation schemes include the IUCN Red List and the phylogenetically informed EDGE of Existence concept (Isaac et al. 2007; IUCN 2013). In combination with spatial approaches, prioritization allows us to recognise the urgency and mitigate using what limited resources are available to conservationists. So, how to refine this focus to some criterion that is both highly quantifiable and universally important?

 
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