Climate change impacts on the tree of life: Changes in phylogenetic diversity illustrated for Acropora corals
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The possible loss of whole branches from the tree of life is a dramatic, but under-studied, biological implication of climate change. The tree of life represents an evolutionary heritage providing both present and future benefits to humanity, often in unanticipated ways. Losses in this evolutionary (evo) life-support system represent losses in 'evosystem' services, and are quantified using the phylogenetic diversity (PD) measure. High species-level biodiversity losses may or may not correspond to high PD losses. If climate change impacts are clumped on the phylogeny, then loss of deeper phylogenetic branches can mean disproportionately large PD loss for a given degree of species loss. Over time, successive species extinctions within a clade each may imply only a moderate loss of PD, until the last species within that clade goes extinct, and PD drops precipitously. Emerging methods of 'phylogenetic risk analysis' address such phylogenetic tipping points by adjusting conservation priorities to better reflect risk of such worst-case losses. We have further developed and explored this approach for one of the most threatened taxonomic groups, corals. Based on a phylogenetic tree for the corals genus Acropora, we identify cases where worst-case PD losses may be avoided by designing risk-averse conservation priorities. We also propose spatial heterogeneity measures changes to assess possible changes in the geographic distribution of corals PD. © 2012 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.
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