1School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. 2School of Information Technology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. 3VieDigitale Ltd, 20 Matthias Ct., 119 Church Road, Richmond, United Kingdom.
Abstract: Biodiversity assessment demands objective measures, because ultimately conservation decisions must prioritize the use of limited resources for preserving taxa. The most general framework for the objective assessment of conservation worth are those that assess evolutionary distinctiveness, e.g. Genetic (Crozier 1992) and Phylogenetic Diversity (Faith 1992), and Evolutionary History (Nee & May 1997). These measures all attempt to assess the conservation worth of any scheme based on how much of the encompassing phylogeny of organisms is preserved. However, their general applicability is limited by the small proportion of taxa that have been reliably placed in a phylogeny. Given that phylogenizaton of many interesting taxa or important is unlikely to occur soon, we present a framework for using taxonomy as a reasonable surrogate for phylogeny. Combining this framework with exhaustive searches for combinations of sites containing maximal diversity, we provide a proof-of-concept for assessing conservation schemes for systematized but un-phylogenised taxa spread over a series of sites. This is illustrated with data from four studies, on North Queensland flightless insects (Yeates et al. 2002), ants from a Florida Transect (Lubertazzi & Tschinkel 2003), New England bog ants (Gotelli & Ellison 2002) and a simulated distribution of the known New Zealand Lepidosauria (Daugherty et al. 1994). The results support this approach, indicating that species, genus and site numbers predict evolutionary history, to a degree depending on the size of the data set.
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