Identifying areas of conservation importance based on spatial patterns of evolutionary diversity: non-volant small mammals in the Andean Puna



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Ecosystems around the world face a variety of threats from anthropogenic activities and drylands are among the most affected due to their unique environmental characteristics. Although they cover ~42% of the global land surface, they are home to about 30% of the world's threatened and endemic species. Further, drylands support nearly 2.5 billion people, about half of whom live below the United Nations poverty line. It is increasingly clear that the sustainability of the ecosystem services provided by the world's drylands is threatened by current human-induced global warming and that drylands are critical to global biodiversity conservation efforts. To maintain ecosystem functionality, it is imperative to maintain community structure and composition by identifying and protecting key conservation areas. Numerous methods exist to achieve this goal. In this study, we advance a method based on patterns of taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity and apply it to the Arid Lands of the Altiplano-Puna Bioregion of South America, using non-volant small mammal communities as a model system. We selected this assemblage of species as they represent one of the most diverse clades of vertebrates in the Altiplano-Puna Bioregion. To achieve these goals, we updated a previously compiled, comprehensive database on the abundance and distribution of non-volant small mammals in the region of interest. This allowed us to calculate spatially explicit, scale-informed indices of richness, endemism, and phylogenetic and functional redundancy. The geographic distribution of areas of exceptionally high diversity identified in our analyses was then compared to the distribution of active and nominal protected areas in the region. These comparisons allowed us to identify the central Altiplano-Puna as an area of exceptional conservation importance. We propose a network of interconnected potential conservation areas, which in conjunction would provide high conservation value while at the same time allow genetic exchange and facilitate ecological processes across landscapes. The ecological health of the Altiplano-Puna Bioregion, and of ecosystems worldwide, depends on our ability to strike a balance between human activities and the conservation of biodiversity-rich areas.

Embargo status: Restricted until 01/2027. To request the author grant access, click on the PDF link to the left.



Richness, Phylogenetic Diversity, Sorenson, protected areas