Anthropogenic threats to evolutionary heritage of angiosperms in the Netherlands through an increase in high-competition environments

Igor V. Bartish*, Wim A. Ozinga*, Mark I. Bartish, G.W.W. Wamelink, Stephan M. Hennekens, Benjamin Yguel, Andreas Prinzing

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Present biodiversity comprises the evolutionary heritage of Earth's epochs. Lineages from particular epochs are often found in particular habitats, but whether current habitat decline threatens the heritage from particular epochs is unknown. We hypothesized that within a given region, humans threaten specifically habitats that harbor lineages from a particular geological epoch. We expect so because humans threaten environments that dominated and lineages that diversified during these epochs. We devised a new approach to quantify, per habitat type, diversification of lineages from different epochs. For Netherlands, one of the floristically and ecologically best-studied regions, we quantified the decline of habitat types and species in the past century. We defined habitat types based on vegetation classification and used existing ranking of decline of vegetation classes and species. Currently, most declining habitat types and the group of red-listed species are characterized by increased diversification of lineages dating back to Paleogene, specifically to Paleocene-Eocene and Oligocene. Among vulnerable habitat types with large representation of lineages from these epochs were sublittoral and eulittoral zones of temperate seas and 2 types of nutrient-poor, open habitats. These losses of evolutionary heritage would go unnoticed with classical measures of evolutionary diversity. Loss of heritage from Paleocene-Eocene became unrelated to decline once low competition, shade tolerance, and low proportion of non-Apiaceae were accounted for, suggesting that these variables explain the loss of heritage from Paleocene-Eocene. Losses of heritage from Oligocene were partly explained by decline of habitat types occupied by weak competitors and shade-tolerant species. Our results suggest a so-far unappreciated human threat to evolutionary heritage: habitat decline threatens descendants from particular epochs. If the trends persist into the future uncontrolled, there may be no habitats within the region for many descendants of evolutionary ancient epochs, such as Paleogene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1536-1548
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
Early online date28 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • abiotic and biotic constraints
  • biodiversity conservation
  • conservación de la biodiversidad
  • declinación de los tipos de hábitat
  • decline of habitat types
  • diversificación filogenética específica de la época
  • epoch-specific phylogenetic diversification
  • inferencia paleoecológica
  • limitaciones bióticas y abióticas
  • paleoecological inference
  • Paleogene
  • Paleógeno
  • 古生态推断
  • 古第三纪
  • 地质时期特异的系统发育多样化
  • 生境类型减少
  • 生物多样性保护
  • 非生物与生物制约


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