The Future of Phylogenetic Systematics

in Conservation Biology: Linking Biodiversity and Society

Roseli Pellens, Daniel P. Faith, and Philippe Grandcolas

Given the rate at which sequence data in the public domain are accumulating, with initiatives to sequence the entire biota … on the horizon, it seems likely that within a decade or two, phylogenetic data will cease to be the limiting factor: It could

even be that an organism's place in the Tree of Life often will be one of the few things we know about it. Mace et al. (2003)

Abstract Phylogenetic diversity has become invaluable for conservation biology in the last decades, reflecting its link to option values and to evolutionary potential. We argue that its use will continue to grow rapidly in the next decades because of the transformation of systematics with new molecular techniques and especially metagenomics. In a near future, phylogenetic diversity typically will be the very first result at hand, and the great challenge of biodiversity sciences will be to preserve its link with natural history and the remainder of biological knowledge through species vouchers and names. The phylogeny availability and the very wide sampling allowed will facilitate obtaining detailed biodiversity information at local scale and considering the transition across scales – a fundamental need well highlighted in international conservation guidelines, and historically so difficult to achieve. All this suggests that phylogenetic diversity might be at the center of more explicit identification of conservation priorities and options. For concluding, we explore an emerging local-to-regional-to-global challenge: the possibility of defining “planetary boundaries” for biodiversity on the basis of phylogenetic diversity.

Keywords Species molecular characterization • Metagenomics • Knowledge databases • Option values • Planetary boundaries

Phylogenetic diversity is now a core part of conservation biology, reflecting its link to option values and to evolutionary potential. Further, there is good overlap with related issues in broader ecology. These include community ecology's interest in productivity (e.g. Cadotte et al. 2012), resilience (e.g. Pugliesi and Rapini 2015) and the functioning of evosystems (e.g. Srivastava et al. 2012) and microbial ecology's use of PD as a cornerstone for exploring diversity patterns at multiple scales (Lozupone and Knight 2005, 2008; Faith et al. 2009). As the chapters in this book demonstrate, the development of new methods and their applications are very much tuned into human impacts and sustainability issues. Thus, red listings, drivers of extinction, and changes in spatial and temporal distribution of phylogenetic diversity are common elements of these studies. All this promotes the incorporation of phylogenetic diversity in the international conservation agenda.

These prospects are magnified by the remarkable facilities for obtaining entire or large parts of genomes or other molecular sequences of any kind of organisms, and by the sheer magnitude of biological (gene sequences, trait databases, species occurrences, red lists) and environmental data (climate layers for past, present and future interpolated to very fine spatial scales; land-use layers, spatial data indicating particular important risks such as fires, floods, and so on) now available in the public domain. All these allow for rapid estimation of the phylogenetic relationships for a large number of organisms in association with potential distribution and threats for species and lineages. In addition, under the stimulus of modern phylogenetic and molecular methods, systematics is going through a significant transformation that will certainly influence biodiversity conservation (Mace et al. 2003; Pons et al. 2006; Vogler and Monaghan 2006; Faith et al. 2010; Yahara et al. 2010). For closing this book, we will briefly describe this transformation of systematics and then discuss some impacts of these changes in biological conservation. We finish by exploring the possibility of defining “planetary boundaries” for biodiversity on the basis of phylogenetic diversity, and its important role in linking biodiversity into broader societal perspectives and needs.

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