Phylogenetic Analysis of Conservation Priorities for Aquatic Mammals and Their Terrestrial Relatives, with a Comparison of MethodsReport as inadecuate

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Habitat loss and overexploitation are among the primary factors threatening populations of many mammal species. Recently, aquatic mammals have been highlighted as particularly vulnerable. Here we test 1 if aquatic mammals emerge as more phylogenetically urgent conservation priorities than their terrestrial relatives, and 2 if high priority species are receiving sufficient conservation effort. We also compare results among some phylogenetic conservation methods.

Methodology-Principal Findings

A phylogenetic analysis of conservation priorities for all 620 species of Cetartiodactyla and Carnivora, including most aquatic mammals. Conservation priority ranking of aquatic versus terrestrial species is approximately proportional to their diversity. However, nearly all obligated freshwater cetartiodactylans are among the top conservation priority species. Further, ∼74% and 40% of fully aquatic cetartiodactylans and carnivores, respectively, are either threatened or data deficient, more so than their terrestrial relatives. Strikingly, only 3% of all ‘high priority’ species are thought to be stable. An overwhelming 97% of these species thus either show decreasing population trends 87% or are insufficiently known 10%. Furthermore, a disproportional number of highly evolutionarily distinct species are experiencing population decline, thus, such species should be closely monitored even if not currently threatened. Comparison among methods reveals that exact species ranking differs considerably among methods, nevertheless, most top priority species consistently rank high under any method. While we here favor one approach, we also suggest that a consensus approach may be useful when methods disagree.


These results reinforce prior findings, suggesting there is an urgent need to gather basic conservation data for aquatic mammals, and special conservation focus is needed on those confined to freshwater. That evolutionarily distinct—and thus ‘biodiverse’—species are faring relatively poorly is alarming and requires further study. Our results offer a detailed guide to phylogeny-based conservation prioritization for these two orders.

Author: Laura J. May-Collado , Ingi Agnarsson



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