Keeping all the PIECES: Phylogenetically Informed Ex Situ Conservation of Endangered Species

Daniel J. Larkin, Sarah K. Jacobi, Andrew L. Hipp, Andrea T. Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Ex situ conservation in germplasm and living collections is a major focus of global plant conservation strategies. Prioritizing species for ex situ collection is a necessary component of this effort for which sound strategies are needed. Phylogenetic considerations can play an important role in prioritization. Collections that are more phylogenetically diverse are likely to encompass more ecological and trait variation, and thus provide stronger conservation insurance and richer resources for future restoration efforts. However, phylogenetic criteria need to be weighed against other, potentially competing objectives. We used ex situ collection and threat rank data for North American angiosperms to investigate gaps in ex situ coverage and phylogenetic diversity of collections and to develop a flexible framework for prioritizing species across multiple objectives. We found that ex situ coverage of 18,766 North American angiosperm taxa was low with respect to the most vulnerable taxa: just 43% of vulnerable to critically imperiled taxa were in ex situ collections, far short of a year-2020 goal of 75%. In addition, species held in ex situ collections were phylogenetically clustered (P < 0.001), i.e., collections comprised less phylogenetic diversity than would be expected had species been drawn at random. These patterns support incorporating phylogenetic considerations into ex situ prioritization in a manner balanced with other criteria, such as vulnerability. To meet this need, we present the 'PIECES' index (Phylogenetically Informed Ex situ Conservation of Endangered Species). PIECES integrates phylogenetic considerations into a flexible framework for prioritizing species across competing objectives using multi-criteria decision analysis. Applying PIECES to prioritizing ex situ conservation of North American angiosperms, we show strong return on investment across multiple objectives, some of which are negatively correlated with each other. A spreadsheet-based decision support tool for North American angiosperms is provided; this tool can be customized to align with different conservation objectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0156973
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NSF awards DEB-1354426 and DEB-1354551. We thank Botanic Gardens Conservation International and NatureServe for provision of data, and the Hipp and Havens-Kramer lab groups for feedback on previous versions of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Larkin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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