Phylogeny-based conservation priorities for Australian freshwater fishes

Amy R. Tims*, John Alroy

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    Conservation scientists are increasingly interested in the question of how extinction prunes the tree of life. This question is particularly important for Australian freshwater fishes because there is a broad mix of ∼300 old and young species, many of which are severely threatened. We used a complete species-level phylogeny of Australian freshwater fishes to examine phylogenetic nonrandomness of extinction risk. We computed the potential loss of phylogenetic diversity by simulating extinction across the tree under a pattern weighted based on International Union for Conservation of Nature extinction risk category and compared this loss to projected diversity loss under a random null model of extinction. Finally, we calculated EDGE (evolutionary distinctiveness, global endangerment) scores for 251 freshwater and 60 brackish species and compiled a list of high-priority species for conservation actions based on their extinction risk and evolutionary uniqueness. Extinction risk was not random and was clustered in both diversity cradles (recently diversifying, species-rich clades, such as Galaxiidae and Percichthyidae) and museums (older, species-poor groups, such as freshwater chondrichthyans). Clustered extinction made little difference to the average expected loss of phylogenetic diversity. However, the upper bound of loss was higher under a selective model of extinction, particularly when the counts of species lost were low. Thus, the loss of highly threatened species would diminish the tree of life more than a null model of randomly distributed extinction. High priority species included both widely recognized and charismatic ones, such as the Queensland lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri), river sharks, and freshwater sawfishes, and lesser-known species that receive less public attention, including the salamanderfish (Lepidogalaxias salamandroides), cave gudgeons, and many galaxiids, rainbowfishes, and pygmy perches.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere13811
    Pages (from-to)1-11
    Number of pages11
    JournalConservation Biology
    Issue number2
    Early online date29 Sept 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


    • conservation priority
    • EDGE indexing
    • extinction risk
    • phylogeny
    • phylogenetic diversity


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