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Phylogenetically informed spatial planning as a tool to prioritise areas for threatened plant conservation within a Mediterranean biodiversity hotspot

Carta, Angelino, Gargano, Domenico, Rossi, Graziano, Bacchetta, Gianluigi, Fenu, Giuseppe, Montagnani, Chiara, Abeli, Thomas, Peruzzi, Lorenzo, Orsenigo, Simone
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.665 pp. 1046-1052
anthropogenic activities, conservation areas, conservation status, cost effectiveness, ecosystems, flora, models, phylogeny, planning, prioritization, risk, spatial data, species diversity, threatened species, vascular plants, Italy, Mediterranean region
Global plant diversity is at risk due to anthropogenic changes to ecosystems, but given severely limited conservation resources, a reliable prioritisation strategy for species and sites is needed. Our objective was to identify key areas for conserving the phylogenetic diversity (PD) of threatened vascular plants in Italy, one of the most species-rich regions in the Mediterranean Basin. We used spatial data and the conservation status of 995 threatened vascular plants and applied a phylogenetically informed spatial planning to minimize conservation costs. We then determined the degree of overlap with existing protected areas and evaluated whether this PD-based prioritisation of areas provides adequate protection for threatened phylogenetically distinctive species (EDGE). The cost-effective procedure identified as priority for conservation 12% of the study territory, while achieving over 90% of conservation targets (total PD). We showed that priority areas and protected areas are moderately spatially mismatched. We also showed that not all top-EDGE species were met by the procedure applied, hence we conclude that the PD-based model indicated key areas for protection, but nevertheless additional attention is needed to protect top-EDGE species. This study represents one of the most comprehensive analyses, to date, for the conservation of the native flora in the Mediterranean, incorporating both spatial distribution and evolutionary relationships. Our work on the prioritisation of threatened plant species across Italy can serve as a guide for future conservation applications.