What We’re Reading- Nov 11, 2016

Pangolin Phylogeography
There are 8 species of pangolins (Manis spp) distributed throughout Africa and Asia. All of the species are listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered with extinction on the IUCN Red List, primarily due to poaching for the chitin rich scales and wild meat. A new paper (sub) investigated genetic diversity in the tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) throughout Africa. They found evidence for six lineages within the species with non-overlapping geographic ranges. Defining these evolutionary significant units and understanding the amount of divergence will help make decisions about what to conserve.

The white-bellied or tree pangolin native to western and central Africa. New research identified six lineages using mitochondrial DNA. Photo Credit: Michael Gore via ARKive
The white-bellied or tree pangolin native to western and central Africa. New research identified six lineages using mitochondrial DNA.
Photo Credit: Michael Gore via ARKive

Using Evolution to Inform Data Deficient Status
Many countries and the IUCN use “Data Deficient” as one of the categories for describing the threat status for imperiled species (see recent post on changes in the USA here). Specifically, the IUCN lists over 10,000 species with insufficient information to define their conservation status; of course, that does not even cover undescribed species. Phylogenetic diversity has been proposed as a factor in deciding which species to conserve. This creative paper assessed imputation methods for estimating extinction risk for data deficient species based on traits and their phylogenetic position and the threat status of related species. The authors found that body mass and geographic range size could help predict extinction probability, and for certain taxa increased estimates of losing unique phylogenetic diversity.

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