Smith Fellows
Smith Fellow


Conservation prioritization of the United States flora using metrics of phylodiversity, land management, and vulnerability to climate change

Traditional approaches to selecting sites for protection in the United States often focus on species richness and endemism. However, species composition in communities is influenced by a long history of eco-evolutionary relationships among the species and with their environment. In this proposed study, we plan to use spatial phylogenetic analysis to identify sites in the United States that have significantly higher number of recently evolved (neo-) and ancient (paleo-) endemic vascular flora. We will use vascular flora because they have been reported to be a reliable indicator of overall taxonomic richness. The sites with unique endemic flora lineages not currently protected, where anthropogenic activities are minimal, and also prone to climate change will be assigned higher conservation value and recommended for new reserve designations in the United States. This way, we would be protecting not only endemic taxa but also the eco-evolutionary relationships that drive their existence and co-existence. This can also be expanded to consider social justice and equity by assigning greater conservation values to indigenous lands and sites closer to urban centers to increase access to nature for urban kids. This study will support key conservation policy decisions across government levels and should contribute significantly to the global agenda and the U.S. commitment to protect 30% of the earth’s land and water by 2030.
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Image Credit: Mishler et al. (2020), Journal of Systematics and Evolution