Molecular systematics and the conservation of rare species

  • Soltis P
  • Gitzendanner M
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Despite the tradition of systematic biology as the science of diversity systematics has until recently contributed relatively little to the theory and practice of conservation biology. We identify four areas in in which systematics could contribute to the conservation of rare plant species: (I) species concepts, (2) the identification of lineages worthy of conservation, (3) the setting of conservation priorities, and (4) the effects of hybridization on the biology and conservation of rare species. Species concepts that incorporate history and reflect phylogeny, ultimately will be more useful for preserving biodiversity than those that do not. Phylogenetic analyses involving conspecific populations often reveal multiple lineages that may warrant protection as evolutionarily distinct units. Phylogenetic information also should be considered in setting priorities for conservation. Systematics provides the tools for inferring relationships among organisations and in conjunction with biogeography, for identifying those areas that harbor many actively speciating groups. Hybridization may lend to the extinction of a rare species, but in other cases, ironically, artificial hybridization with a more widespread congener may be the only way to preserve the gene pool of a rare species. We appeal to systematics to contribute actively to both conservation theory, and practice, and we call for the integration of systematics in the establishment of conservation priorities and the development of strategies to preserve Earth's biota.

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  • Pamela S. Soltis

  • Matthew A. Gitzendanner

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