HomeScienceGeneticsMore than a tenth of the world's land-based genetic diversity may have...

More than a tenth of the world’s land-based genetic diversity may have already been lost, study says

Artist’s concept illustrating the declining geographic range of the rhinoceros and the loss of genetic variability. Credit: Artwork is courtesy of Mark Belan,

According to new research 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’ stated goal of protecting 90 percent of the genetic diversity for each species by 2030, announced last year, and that we need to act quickly to prevent further losses.

A few hundred types of animals and plants have become extinct in the industrialized age and human activity has affected or shrunken half of the earth’s ecosystems, affecting millions of species. The partial loss of geographic reach is decreasing population size and may geographically prevent populations of the same species from interacting with each other. This has serious implications for an animal or plant’s genetic wealth and their ability to meet the challenges ahead climate change.

“When you take away or fundamentally alter parts of a species’ habitat, you limit the genetic wealth available to help those plants and animals adapt to changing conditions,” explains Exposito-Alonso, who is one of Carnegie’s prestigious Holds Staff Associate positions – recognizing early career excellence – and is also an assistant professor, courtesy of Stanford University.

Until recently, this important component has been 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 accommodate changes in their geographic range. to survive.

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

Infographic illustrating how habitat loss is associated with loss of genetic diversity and extinction risk. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Mark Belan,

In popular culture, mutations convey 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, passing the positive traits on to future generations.

As a result, the larger the pool of mutations a species can draw from, the more likely it is to stumble upon that happy mix that will help a species thrive despite the pressures caused by habitat loss, as well as changing temperature and precipitation patterns. ,” added Exposito-Alonso.

He and his collaborators wanted to develop a population genetics-based framework for evaluating the wealth of mutations available for a species within a given area.

They analyzed genomic data for more than 10,000 individual organisms from 20 different species to show that the terrestrial plant and animals live would already be at much greater risk of loss of genetic diversity than previously thought. Because the speed at which genetic diversity is recovered is much slower than that at which it is lost, the researchers consider it irreversible.

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

Infographic illustrating that the loss of genetic biodiversity already exceeds UN conservation goals. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Mark Belan,

“The mathematical tool we tested in 20 species could be extended to make approximate conservation genetics projections for other species, even if we don’t know their genomes,” Exposito-Alonso concluded. “I think our findings can be used to evaluate and track the new global sustainability goals, but there is still a lot of uncertainty. We need to do a better job monitoring populations of species and developing more genetic tools.”

“Moi took a bold, creative approach to explore a scientific question that is critical for policy makers and conservationists to understand whether they want to implement strategies that can address the coming challenges facing our world,” says Margaret McFall-Ngai, Director of Carnegie’s recently launched Division of Biosphere Sciences & Engineering. “This kind of intellectual courage is illustrative of the Carnegie model of going off the beaten track and the kind of work that characterizes our prestigious Staff Associate program.”

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

Global warming may reduce plant genetic variation in Central Europe

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

Quote: More than a tenth of the world’s terrestrial genetic diversity may have already been lost, says study (September 2022, Sept. 22) retrieved Sept. 22, 2022 from world- terrestrial-genetic-diversity.html

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