Phylogenetic Biodiversity Metrics Should Account for Both Accumulation and Attrition of Evolutionary Heritage

Syst Biol. 2023 Dec 15:syad072. doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syad072. Online ahead of print.


Phylogenetic metrics are essential tools used in the study of ecology, evolution and conservation. Phylogenetic diversity (PD) in particular is one of the most prominent measures of biodiversity, and is based on the idea that biological features accumulate along the edges of phylogenetic trees that are summed. We argue that PD and many other phylogenetic biodiversity metrics fail to capture an essential process that we term attrition. Attrition is the gradual loss of features through causes other than extinction. Here we introduce 'EvoHeritage', a generalisation of PD that is founded on the joint processes of accumulation and attrition of features. We argue that whilst PD measures evolutionary history, EvoHeritage is required to capture a more pertinent subset of evolutionary history including only components that have survived attrition. We show that EvoHeritage is not the same as PD on a tree with scaled edges; instead, accumulation and attrition interact in a more complex non-monophyletic way that cannot be captured by edge lengths alone. This leads us to speculate that the one dimensional edge lengths of classic trees may be insufficiently flexible to capture the nuances of evolutionary processes. We derive a measure of EvoHeritage and show that it elegantly reproduces species richness and PD at opposite ends of a continuum based on the intensity of attrition. We demonstrate the utility of EvoHeritage in ecology as a predictor of community productivity compared with species richness and PD. We also show how EvoHeritage can quantify living fossils and resolve their associated controversy. We suggest how the existing calculus of PD-based metrics and other phylogenetic biodiversity metrics can and should be recast in terms of EvoHeritage accumulation and attrition.

Keywords: EvoHeritage; accumulation; attrition; biodiversity; community productivity; diversity metric; evolutionary distinctiveness; evolutionary heritage; fair proportion; feature diversity; feature loss; living fossil; phylogenetic diversity; phylogenetic metric.