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Spatial phylogenetic patterns and conservation of threatened woody species in a transition zone of southwest China


Phylogenies are crucial for understanding historical patterns of genetic biodiversity, but very few are incorporated practically into existing conservation programs. Xishuangbanna, a tropical–subtropical forest transition, is a key biodiversity hotspot in Southwest of China; however, gaps between practical protection and national planning need to be bridged, as ongoing, rapid expansion of rubber plantations in the region increasingly threatens local diversity. Here, we used administrative regions as study units to identify spatial patterns for 158 threatened woody species and investigate the ratio of tropical floristic to temperate floristic in the transition zone. We used all-subsets regression analysis to test the impacts of environments (climatic, edaphic, topographic) on biodiversity patterns. Spatial patterns using several conservation metrics gave different results, with species richness, phylogenetic diversity, and evolutionary distinctiveness and global endangerment highly consistent spatially, while either standardized phylogenetic diversity and phylogenetic structure performed differently from others for spatial patterns. The biodiversity patterns of threatened woody species in Xishuangbanna are affected by the combined impact of rubber plantations and abiotic environments, but their evolutionary history is not, with only c. 69% of phylogenetic diversity currently protected by traditional nature reserves. Although the Menglong and Xiangming townships show high conservation values, they are not in the reserves. Eleven threatened woody species were required for ex situ conservation due to threats from clearance for rubber plantations and in all, 21 regionally and internationally important species are currently unprotected. We recommend incorporating the phylogenetic component of biodiversity in improving current and establishing new reserves.

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The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Special thanks should go to Barnabas H. Daru who has put in the time and effort into the comments and suggestions on the draft.


This work was supported by the Science and Technology Basic Resources Investigation Program of China (Grant/Award Number: 2017FY100100; 2017FY100102); Biodiversity Conservation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant/Award Number: ZSSD-013); the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant/Award Number: 31770569; 31500454); Yunnan Fundamental Research Projects (Grant/Award Number: 202201AS070055); and the STS Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. KFJ-3W-No1).

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Authors and Affiliations



XYZ: Data curation, Formal analysis, Writing-original draft, Writing-review & editing. XQC: Conceptualizatin, Writing-review & editing. RBZ: Funding acquisition, Resources, Writing-review & editing. JGC: Writing-review & editing. JL: Conceptualizatin, Funding acquisition, Supervision, Writing-review & editing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jie Li.

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The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest in this work.

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Communicated by Pedro V. Eisenlohr.

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Zhang, X., Ci, X., Zhu, R. et al. Spatial phylogenetic patterns and conservation of threatened woody species in a transition zone of southwest China. Biodivers Conserv 31, 2205–2225 (2022).

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  • Threatened status
  • Woody species
  • Evolutionary history
  • Spatial patterns
  • Conservation assessment
  • Environmental factors