The mission of the California State Park system is "to provide for the health, inspiration and education of the people of California by helping to preserve the state's extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation". To address the primary goal of this mission, State Parks has endeavored to obtain and protect areas that are exemplars of the ecoregions and geomorphic provinces of California, as well as particularly rare habitat types. This approach seeks to minimize the loss of current biodiversity due to extinction. However, long-term biodiversity preservation efforts must also take into account the evolutionary processes that lead to the creation of genetic and morphological diversity within species, as well as new species. These evolutionary processes are more likely to occur in areas that can be termed “evolutionary hotspots”, such as 1) biogeographic suture zones where previously allopatric lineages hybridize, 2) areas with steep environmental gradients that may promote adaptive change, and 3) areas of topographic and geologic complexity that can provide barriers to movement and gene flow. Because these types of areas are often found at the intergrades or ecotones between ecoregions, they may not be sufficiently represented in the current set of state parks, or other governmental and private preserves.
In parallel with a state-wide effort led by researchers at UC Berkeley, our project goal was to establish an evolutionary framework for southern California within which we can evaluate land conservation plans. Our focus is primarily on the southern California coastal ecoregion and the ecoregions adjacent to it. This region is characterized by high floral and faunal diversity, and recent work suggests that it also contains higher levels of cryptic diversity within species than many other areas of California. We gathered 21 mitochondrial DNA datasets from different species that contained good geographic sampling with Southern California. We are analyzing these separately and in combination to identify geographic areas where species show common phylogeographic breaks and evolutionary histories. With this work we will be able to pinpoint geographic regions where genetic divergence is particularly high and whether these hotspots fall within currently protected lands.
USGS Contact For This Project
Vandergast, AG, RD Inman, KR Barr, KE Nussear, TC Esque, SA Hathaway, DA Wood, PA Medica, JW Breinholt, CL Stephen, AD Gottscho, SB Marks, WB Jennings, RN Fisher. 2013. Evolutionary hotspots in the Mojave Desert. Diversity 5(2): 293-319. doi: 10.3390/d5020293