Extinction and the Loss of Evolutionary History

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Science  24 Oct 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5338, pp. 692-694
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5338.692

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Extinction episodes, such as the anthropogenic one currently under way, result in a pruned tree of life. But what fraction of the underlying evolutionary history survives when k ofn species in a taxon are lost? This is relevant both to how species loss has translated into a loss of evolutionary history and to assigning conservation priorities. Here it is shown that approximately 80 percent of the underlying tree of life can survive even when approximately 95 percent of species are lost, and that algorithms that maximize the amount of evolutionary history preserved are not much better than choosing the survivors at random. Given the political, economic, and social realities constraining conservation biology, these findings may be helpful.

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