Keeping the tree of life intact

How do we best preserve the world’s remaining biodiversity? That was the topic of a conference I attended last week at the Royal Society in London on ‘Phylogeny, extinction risk and conservation’.  The two-day conference included a range of interesting presentations on global to regional conservation efforts.

Obviously the extinction story can be a depressing one—the Yangtze River Dolphin is most likely extinct and one in five plant species are threatened with extinction. However, even given the looming threats to biodiversity, there is a huge effort underway to make informed decisions about how to prevent further losses.

One of the highlights for me was that some of the most biodiverse and highly threatened regions are receiving some much-needed attention. For example, Prof. Tetsukazu Yahara described an ambitious survey effort to document various aspects of biodiversity across southeastern Asia. They are already refining ideas of local biodiversity hotspots. Dr Sven Buerki talked about efforts to map and understand diversity in Madagascar.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 11.18.57 AMFrom a global perspective, species are increasingly being prioritized with programs such as the IUCN Sample Red List Index, which estimates threat and EDGE, which combines global endangerment with ‘evolutionary distinctiveness’ (ED). Also, we heard from Prof. Thomas Brooks that the IUCN is nearing a cohesive approach for identifying Key Biodiversity Areas (to be launched at the 2014 World Parks Congress).


And, of course, the incredible advancements of molecular systematics in building the tree of life.  Even a tree of life app!












Open Tree of Life

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Map of Life

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