X marks the conservation hotspot

What do a platypus, a lemur, an aardvark and a South American mouse-like marsupial called, fantastically, the monito del monte all have in common?

The answer is: they don’t have very much in common at all, not only with each other, but with anything. They are unique species with very few close relatives, making them important targets for conservation according to a study from the ANU Research School of Biology.

Using maps of about 4,700 land mammals' habitats, and information on how species are related to each other, ANU researchers have identified the most important places across the world for protecting mammal diversity.

"Scientists have often focused on the number of species in a protected area, but studies like this one consider the degree to which the family tree of life is well represented," biologist Dr Dan Rosauer says.

"This study seeks to protect all land mammals, but it gives top priority to species with no close relatives, because if they were lost there would be nothing like them left.”

Dr Rosauer says targeting conservation efforts in areas that provided the most benefit was critical, because resources—particularly land and money—were limited.

“Habitat loss is a major threat to the world’s mammal species,” Dr Rosauer says. “Over 1000 mammal species are already threatened.”

“This is the first time that anyone has mapped these priority areas for conserving the diversity of mammal evolution along with minimum target areas for habitat protection.

"People are already working on these challenges, but by using this cutting-edge genetic information we can make far better decisions, protecting much more of the diversity of the mammal tree of life through better use of limited resources.

"By targeting areas with these really unique species, you would also protect a lot of other species too."

Find out more about ANU research in biology.