, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 207-226

Geographical patterns for relict and young species of birds in Africa and South America and implications for conservation priorities

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By comparing geographical patterns of old and new species with historical and ecological processes, interpretations can be made about time patterns of diversification. Such interpretations can form a basis for developing rationales for ranking biodiversity conservation priorities. The results of the comprehensive study of avian DNA were used to compare geographical distributions in Africa and South America of species of strong Plio-Pleistocene radiations and species representing older monophyletic branches. Striking patterns, some of them overlooked so far, were found. Most old species are widespread across a physiognomic and climatic domain, such as lowland rainforests, and therefore, are not specific conservation targets. In contrast, new species have evolved in well defined places with a special local environment, in particular in ecologically equable places inside geologically complex ecotonal regions. High species richness and taxonomic diversity, where maintained over wide areas by steady habitat alteration through patch dynamics, may be easiest to protect by general reforms that integrate regional development and protection of ecosystem services, rather than by strictly site-oriented projects. Areas of active speciation, although small, may have important regulatory functions and a critical role for maintaining evolutionary fronts'. The Tropical Andes Region includes a dozen such places. There is a congruence between the occurrence of old species which have relictual distributions and aggregates of limited-range component species of recent vicariance patterns, indicating that vicariance events take place mainly by isolation in extremely ecologically stable areas. Although these places do not necessarily have the highest taxic diversity, they should be top priorities for rapid and concentrated conservation action.