The southeastern United States is a recognized hotspot of biodiversity for a variety of aquatic taxa, including fish, amphibians, and mollusks. Unfortunately, the great diversity of the area is accompanied by a large proportion of species at risk of extinction. Gap analysis was employed to assess the representation of evolutionary hotspots in protected lands where an evolutionary hotspot was defined as an area with high evolutionary potential and measured by atypical patterns of genetic divergence, genetic diversity, and to a lesser extent genetic similarity across multiple terrestrial or aquatic taxa. A survey of the primary literature produced 16 terrestrial and 14 aquatic genetic datasets for estimation of genetic divergence and diversity. Relative genetic diversity and divergence values for each terrestrial and aquatic dataset were used for interpolation of multispecies genetic surfaces and subsequent visualization using ArcGIS. The multispecies surfaces interpolated from relative divergences and diversity data identified numerous evolutionary hotspots for both terrestrial and aquatic taxa, many of which were afforded some current protection. For instance, 14% of the cells identified as hotspots of aquatic diversity were encompassed by currently protected areas. Additionally, 25% of the highest 1% of terrestrial diversity cells were afforded some level of protection. In contrast, areas of high and low divergence among species, and areas of high variance in diversity were poorly represented in the protected lands. Of particular interest were two areas that were consistently identified by several different measures as important from a conservation perspective. These included an area encompassing the panhandle of Florida and southern Georgia near the Apalachicola National Forest (displaying varying levels of genetic divergence and greater than average levels of genetic diversity) and a large portion of the coastal regions of North and South Carolina (displaying low genetic divergence and greater than average levels of genetic diversity). Our results show the utility of genetic datasets for identifying cross-species patterns of genetic diversity and divergence (i.e., evolutionary hotspots) in aquatic and terrestrial environments for use in conservation design and delivery across the southeastern United States.
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