The Value of Phylogenetic Diversity

In P. Grandcolas (ed.), Biodiversity Conservation and Phylogenetic Systematics. Springer (2016)
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This chapter explores the idea that phylogenetic diversity plays a unique role in underpinning conservation endeavour. The conservation of biodiversity is suffering from a rapid, unguided proliferation of metrics. Confusion is caused by the wide variety of contexts in which we make use of the idea of biodiversity. Characterisations of biodiversity range from all-variety-at-all-levels down to variety with respect to single variables relevant to very specific conservation contexts. Accepting biodiversity as the sum of a large number of individual measures results in an empirically intractable framework. However, large-scale decisions cannot be based on biodiversity variables inferred from local conservation imperatives because the variables relevant to the many systems being compared would be incommensurate with one another. We therefore need some general conception of biodiversity that would make tractable such large-scale environmental decision-marking. We categorise the large array of strategies for the measurement of biodiversity into four broad groups for consideration as general measures of biodiversity. We compare common moral justifications for the conservation of biodiversity and conclude that some form of instrumental value is the most plausible justification for biodiversity conservation. Although this is often interpreted as a reliance on option value, we opt for a broadly consequentialist characterisation of biodiversity conservation. We conclude that the best justified general measure of biodiversity will be some form of phylogenetic diversity.

Author Profiles

James Maclaurin
University of Otago
Christopher Lean
Macquarie University


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