Research Summary

Phylogenetics & Biodiversity. Development and application of phylogenetic methods in ecology and conservation biology. Phylogenetics offers a powerful means to explore evolutionary mechanisms shaping ecological patterns and the distribution of species richness. A better understanding of the processes shaping biodiversity patterns will be critical if we wish to reduce current rates of biodiversity loss.

Recent discussion meeting at the Royal Society on Phylogeny, extinction risks and conservation organised by Dr Felix Forest, Professor Mark Chase FRS, Professor Keith Crandall and Dr Daniel Faith.

The integration of phylogenetic information with metrics of extinction risk such as the IUCN Red List provides powerful tools for the conservation of phylogenetic diversity. This meeting offered a detailed overview of the state of play in the field, presented advances and comparative analyses of methodologies and provided case studies that apply these methods to support conservation efforts.

You can hear a short report on the meeting by Harriet Johnson from the Naked Scientist here

Just because...

Society in harmony with nature

In recent travels a little beyond my usual home range, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Yahara, from Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan. Yahara is perhaps one of the leading biodiversity scientists in Japan, and a key player in the bioGENESIS programme at DIVERSITAS, aimed at providing an evolutionary framework for biodiversity science (see here for further details: Whilst stabbing ineffectually at a piece of raw fish, I described to him some recent work that I have been involved with on the relationship between the phylogenetic diversity of tree species in southern Africa and the ecosystem goods (or should that be evosystem goods?
See that they provide.

The conversation naturally drifted on to ecosystem services – benefits people obtain from ecosystems. Yahara, politely ignoring the cultural damage I was inflicting with my eating utensils, informed me that the concept of ecosystem services would not be understood in Japan. Here, in Japan, I was told, the inter-relationship between people and nature is encapsulated in the concept of kyosei, which roughly translates as symbiosis: humans are not separate from the natural environment, but rather exist within it, and both humans and nature gain from this relationship.

I am not sure how profound this distinction in terminology might be, but it made me think more about our concept of ecosystem services and, more broadly, how our language might influence the way we relate to the environment. Vocabulary can shape our perceptions and thought processes, and perhaps even how we discount the future (

Of course, many words now in common use have recent roots in other languages and cultures, but there are some examples, such as Schadenfreude (German), Gung Ho (Chinese), and Macho (Spanish), that so perfectly capture a concept or idea that they seem to bring with them a new perspective. In science writing it is good practice to minimize the use of jargon, but perhaps we might gain in unexpected ways from some cross-cultural fertilisation of our vocabulary.

Professor Yahara and Dr Javadi, I thank you for your generosity as hosts.

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Contact information:
Dr. Jonathan Davies
Department of Biology, McGill University
Stewart Biology Building
1205 ave Docteur Penfield, Room W3/4
Montreal, Quebec CANADA H3A 1B1

Tel: 514-398-8885
Fax: 514-398-5069