More than one-tenth of the world’s terrestrial genetic diversity may already be lost, study says


It may already be too late to meet the UN's genetic diversity goal, but new evidence could guide conservation efforts

Artistic concept illustrating the rhino’s decreasing geographic range and loss of genetic variability. Photo Credit: Artwork courtesy of Mark Belan, artscistudios.com

Climate change and habitat destruction may already have caused the loss of more than a tenth of the world’s terrestrial genetic diversity, according to a new study led by Carnegie’s Moises Exposito-Alonso and published in Science. This means that it may already be too late to meet the United Nations’ goal announced last year of protecting 90 percent of genetic diversity for each species by 2030, and that we must act quickly to prevent further losses.

Several hundred animal and plant species have died out in the industrial age, and human activities have affected or shrunk half of the world’s ecosystems, affecting millions of species. Partial loss of geographic range reduces population size and may geographically prevent populations of the same species from interacting with each other. This has serious implications for the genetic richness of an animal or plant and its ability to face the coming challenges of climate change.

“When you take away or fundamentally alter parts of a species’ habitat, you limit the genetic richness available to help these plants and animals adapt to changing conditions,” explained Exposito-Alonso, who holds one of the prestigious positions as a collaborator of Carnegie holds – which recognizes excellence in early career – and is also, courtesy, an assistant professor at Stanford University.

Until recently, this important component was overlooked in setting biodiversity conservation goals, but without a diverse pool of natural genetic mutations to draw on, species will be limited in their ability to survive changes in their geographic range.

It may already be too late to meet the UN's genetic diversity goal, but new evidence could guide conservation efforts

Infographic showing how habitat loss is linked to loss of genetic diversity and risk of extinction. Image Credits: Image courtesy of Mark Belan, artscistudios.com

In popular culture, mutations confer superpowers that defy the laws of physics. But in reality, mutations represent small, random natural variations in the genetic code that can positively or negatively affect an individual organism’s ability to survive and reproduce, and pass the beneficial traits on to future generations.

“The larger the pool of mutations that a species can draw from, the greater the chances of encountering that happy mix that will help a species despite the pressures of habitat loss and temperature and temperature cycling.” emerging, thriving precipitation patterns,” added Exposito-Alonso.

He and his collaborators set out to develop a population genetics-based framework to assess the mutation richness available to a species in a given area.

They analyzed genomic data from more than 10,000 individual organisms from 20 different species to show that Earth’s terrestrial plant and animal life may already be at much greater risk from loss of genetic diversity than previously thought. Because the rate at which genetic diversity is restored is much slower than that at which it is lost, researchers believe it is virtually irreversible.

It may already be too late to meet the UN's genetic diversity goal, but new evidence could guide conservation efforts

Infographic showing that the loss of genetic biodiversity already exceeds the UN protection goals. Image Credits: Image courtesy of Mark Belan, artscistudios.com

“The mathematical tool we tested on 20 species could be extended to make approximate predictions of conservation genetics for more species even when we don’t know their genomes,” concluded Exposito-Alonso. “I think our results could be used to assess and track the new global sustainability goals, but there is still a lot of uncertainty. We need to do better at monitoring species populations and develop more genetic tools.”

“Moi took a bold, creative approach to examine a scientific question that is critical for policymakers and conservationists to understand if they are to implement policies that address the coming challenges our world faces,” said Margaret McFall-Ngai, director of Carnegie’s newly formed Department of Biosphere Sciences and Engineering. “This kind of intellectual courage exemplifies the Carnegie model of doing science outside of the box and the kind of work that is a hallmark of our acclaimed Staff Associate program.”

The research team included members of the Exposito-Alonso lab – Lucas Czech, Lauren Gillespie, Shannon Hateley, Laura Leventhal, Megan Ruffley, Sebastian Toro Arana and Erin Zeiss – as well as collaborator Tom Booker from the University of British Columbia; UCLA’s Christopher Kyriazis; Patricia Lang, Veronica Pagowski, Jeffrey Spence, and Clemens Weiss from Stanford University; and David Nogues-Bravo from the University of Copenhagen.


Global warming may reduce plant genetic diversity in Central Europe


More information:
Moises Exposito-Alonso, Loss of Genetic Diversity in the Anthropocene, Science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/science.abn5642. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abn5642

Provided by the Carnegie Institution for Science

Citation: More than a tenth of the world’s terrestrial genetic diversity may already be lost, says study (2022, September 22) retrieved September 22, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-one- tenth-world-terrestrial-genetic-diversity.html

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