Publisher: Cambridge University Press Date of Publication: 2005
Price: ISBN: 0 521 53200 0
Pages: xiii + 431 Format: Paperback

Overall Score:

Target Readership Undergraduate For help with criteria, click here


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1 - Phylogeny and conservation; 2 - Molecular phylogenetics for conservation biology; 3 - Species: demarcation and diversity; 4 - Phylogenetic units and currencies above and below; 5 - Integrating phylogenetic diversity in the selection of priority areas for conservation: does it make a difference?; 6 - Evolutionary heritage as a metric for conservation; 7 - Age and area revisited: identifying global patterns and implications for conservation; 8 - Putting processes on the map: why ecotones are important; 9 - The oldest rainforests in Africa: stability or resilience for survival and diversity?; 10 - Late Tertiary and Quaternary climate change and centres of endemism in the Southern Africa flora; 11 - Historical biogeography, diversity and conservation of Australia's tropical rainforest herpetofauna; 12 - Conservation status and geographic distribution of avian evolutionary history; 13 - Correlates of extinction risk: phylogeny, biology, threat and scale; 14 - Mechanisms of extinction in birds: phylogeny, ecology and threats; 15 - Primate diversity patterns and their conservation in Amazonia; 16 - Predicting which species will become invasive: what's taxonomy got to do with it?; 17 - Phylogenetic futures after the latest mass extinction; 18 - Predicting future speciation.



Phylogeny, the study of evolutionary relationships and lineages is one of the ways in which biodiversity can be framed. Traditionally, biodiversity was a species-focussed concept because at least species were easy to identify? The advent of molecular ecology and DNA testing has meant that we can look again at what it means to be a species and, by implication, biodiversity. The argument presented in this book is that we have sufficient knowledge to be able to look at conservation in terms of phylogeny.

We start with an overview of the ideas being put forward. It is noted that both phylogenetics and conservation biology are developing equally rapidly but that there is more that could be done in terms of cross-fertilisation of concepts: the aim of the book is to explore this. From this point the book is divided into four sections. The first section re-visits the notion of species (the 'currency' of conservation). The key point here is that species have considerable diversity within their range and so, at the most critical conservation level, species may not be the best option. However, this is not to say we can abandon species - sometimes we have no better data and must use what is available. Neither, as chapter three makes clear, is it a case of phylogenetics being perfect. The technique is controversial especially if used as a basis for demarcating species. Even if this is established there is still the need to find something upon which to base management decisions. Chapter four develops a ranking system that can be useful but we see, again, that this is a new way of working and is far from perfect. Perhaps, as is noted here, phylogenies are best used at a specific scale rather than universally. The work mentioned so far considers the impact of phylogeny on species choice. Does it also have an effect upon the area designated for conservation? This depends on the initial conditions but a model described in chapter five does give some ideas of operationalising phylogenetic work. A final chapter in this section aims to link science with politics to see how, practically, we can use this new information. Section two is subtitled 'inferring evolutionary processes'. It deals with the value of finding out lineages both for conservation areas now and future research into effective conservation methods. The first contribution examines the relationships between age of a taxon and its extent. Chapter seven uses some very large databases to model age-area relationships with the conclusion that range does seem to decline with time - an important concept in designating areas for conservation. The idea of getting a representative area for conservation is fine in theory but difficult in practice. Four contributions highlight the problems involved. Field studies of the W. African Little Greenbul suggest that diversity is habitat related and that ecotones are crucial for conservation. The three other studies focussing on Southern Africa and Australia show the value of phylogenetics to examining sudden changes in climate/habitat/population. Section three looks at the impact of human action. Using a range of studies, contributors examine the degree of impact that people can have on species survival. All report considerable impact from human action but they argue for different implications. For example, chapter 12 suggests that conservation action should be more tightly proscribed, chapters 13 and 14 see threats as being selective in their action (some are more vulnerable than others). Chapter 15 describes habitat loss as being a major force and shows how phylogeny can put substance to what have been more speculative claims up to now. Finally, chapter 16 takes another angle by examining species loss through biotic homogenisation i.e. invasive species reduce diversity globally. The final section, details the ways in which phylogeny can help us in planning for the future. One startling idea put forward is that we are looking at the wrong area: we know about the macroscopic but little about the microscopic which comprises the majority of taxa. At this level, macroscopic species loss might not be a problem for life! Finally, we need to know about both loss and speciation and yet we have few tools, even with phylogenetic research, to help us.

This is a very detailed and advanced account of some of the latest ideas in conservation theory. For those who have been in the field for some years the ideas represent a new way of looking at old data and a way of reconciling theoretical and practical difficulties. It is very clear that this cross-fertilisation of areas has a great deal of work to do to become a mature sub-discipline but it's equally clear that there is sufficient interest, potential and material to make it worth while. Overall, this is a fascinating account of a new development in the field which deserves the widest readership.


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