Background: Understanding why species go extinct has become a major goal of evolutionary biology. Recent studies have suggested that both species traits and rates of evolution might predict extinction probability in a changing world. Here, we tested whether species conservation status correlates with recent rates of niche evolution within their lineages across 11,465 species of terrestrial vertebrates.
Results: We find no consistent association between rates of niche evolution and current IUCN status in birds, mammals, amphibians and squamates. Our results suggest that rates of niche evolution estimated over evolutionary time are a poor predictor of species extinction probability at present time.
Conclusions: Our results are consistent with previous studies showing that past rates of evolution are unrelated to how species will adapt to climate change in the future. This mismatch might be explained by the different time scales involved, difficulties in accurately estimating evolutionary rates and extinction risks, or simply the fact that the selective pressures affecting biodiversity are different today than in the past.