Publication of V. Maris, co-written with E. Milot & A. Béchet, « The dimensions of evolutionary potential in biological conservation »

A paper of Emmanuel Milot, Arnaud Béchet & Virginie Maris entitled « The dimensions of evolutionary potential in biological conservation » has been published in Evolutionary Applications (vol. 13, issue 6).

 Preprint | online version


It is now well admitted by ecologists that the conservation of biodiversity should imply preserving the evolutionary processes that will permit its adaptation to ongoing and future environmental changes. This is attested by the ever‐growing reference to the conservation of evolutionary potential in the scientific literature. The impression that one may have when reading papers is that conserving evolutionary potential can only be a good thing, whatever biological system is under scrutiny. However, different objectives, such as maintaining species richness versus ecosystem services, may express different, when not conflicting, underlying values attributed to biodiversity. For instance, biodiversity can be intrinsically valued, as worth it to be conserved per se, or it can be conserved as a means for human flourishing. Consequently, both the concept of evolutionary potential and the prescriptions derived from the commitment to conserve it remain problematic, due to a lack of explicit mention of the norms underlying different conservation visions. Here, we contend that those who advocate for the conservation of evolutionary potential should position their conception along four dimensions: what vehicles instantiate the evolutionary potential relevant to their normative commitment; what temporality is involved; how measurable evolutionary potential is, and what degree of human influence is tolerated. We need to address these dimensions if we are to determine why and when the maintenance of evolutionary potential is an appropriate target for the conservation of biodiversity.