Conservation Connections: Using Evolution to Guide Conservation Priorities

Nick Dulvy

Abstract

Over 500 species of Canadian wildlife are officially at risk of extinction. The limited resources that society has to apply to conservation efforts demands efficiencies and prioritization techniques. The Conservation Connections project will support Canada’s leading role in conservation biology by developing new data management and modelling techniques to help identify, organize, and track species of greatest concern in Canada. We have chosen to develop our prototype tools using the world's sharks and rays: Tier II CRC N. Dulvy is the International Union of Conservation Networks (IUCN) co-chair for this group of charismatic megafauna. Though phylogenetic data are critical both for setting conservation priorities and for predicting species vulnerability, no current conservation database explicitly incorporates such data. Our project will harness existing taxonomic databases (ubio.org) to National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) genomic data and graft these outputs to 'known' backbone trees by adapting new methodologies, e.g., from medical genomics and supertree approaches. This dynamic phylogenetic framework will form the core of a world-wide, freely accessible conservation scientific gateway for sharks and rays. The PRISM project will allow the creation, curation, visualization and manipulation of complex and data-rich taxonomic, systematic, threat driver, map (working with the Map of Life Team) and relevant ecological data for all 1095 species of chondricthyan fishes (sharks, rays, and skates), and link these to a novel dynamic phylogenetic structure (a prototype scientific gateway is available via the IRMACS website). This approach will change the way phylogenies are integrated with ecological, morphological, genomic and conservation data, and to our knowledge is a unique application of phylogenetic information in a dynamic environment, extensible to all endangered Canadian species.

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