Conservation paleobiology needs phylogenetic methods Academic Article uri icon


  • 2014 The Authors. We address several central concerns of conservation paleobiology, namely, the inference of geographic ranges of ancestral and ancient species, the changes in geographic range under climate change, and the associated question of inferring the environmental preferences of ancestral lineages and how they have evolved over geological time. We will show why these questions might be crucial for making better projections of geographic range under future climate change scenarios, and for assessing such scenarios, as well as assessing comparisons between predicted and observed geographic ranges of ancient taxa. We review two major bodies of literature and modelling techniques, namely phylogenetic biogeography - the historical biogeography of lineage presence and absence in large, discrete regions, inferred on phylogenetic trees - and phylogenetic ancestral niche estimation, which utilizes phylogenetic comparative methods to understand temporal changes in species environmental niches and the resulting change in their geographic distributions due to niche evolution, geologic changes, and climatic changes. We suggest that many of the limitations in each of the currently available methods could be ameliorated by combining them, such that coarse-scale biogeographic history, evolution of environmental niche preferences on a phylogenetic tree, the evolutionary model for these changes, and modern species' environmental niche models are all co-estimated in formal joint inference framework. We acknowledge that this goal is extremely ambitious, but it is likely to have large payoffs, not just for conservation paleobiology but even for purely neobiological niche modelling studies that typically leave out information about phylogenetic relationship and historical biogeography, and thus, may often conflate several non-environmental factors with the estimation of species' environmental niches.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 18.55

author list (cited authors)

  • Lawing, A. M., & Matzke, N. J.

citation count

  • 28

complete list of authors

  • Lawing, A Michelle||Matzke, Nicholas J

publication date

  • January 2014