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Assessing genetic diversity is vital for nature

National conservation strategies should include evaluation of genetic variation within species, scientists say.

red panda on tree
Genetic diversity of wildlife and other species should be considered in biodiversity strategies.

Failure to estimate and monitor genetic diversity in populations of the same species could hinder animals and plants from adapting to a changing environment, a study has found.

National conservation strategies to conserve genetic diversity have primarily focused on agricultural species, often not including wildlife, an analysis of multiple countries has found.

The findings informed a set of recommendations to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which could be used to produce standardised guidance on conservation of genetic diversity for 195 countries and the European Union.

Scope for improvement

Scientists reviewed 114 National Reports to investigate how CBD’s signatory countries assess and protect genetic diversity.

More than a fifth of reports did not refer to genetic diversity in their national targets and only 5 per cent of countries reported the use of genetic diversity indicators, the review has found.

The main indicators of genetic diversity reported by countries, such as the number of genetic resources in conservation facilities, of plant genetic resources, and whether species are threatened, do not reliably measure loss of genetic diversity, scientists say.

The collaborative study is published in the journal Biological Conservation and summarised in a policy brief, which has been translated into several languages. It was led by the Morton Arboretum and the US Geological Survey and involved scientists from the Roslin Institute.

Genetic diversity of all species, including the ones that are not deemed socioeconomically important, should be considered into national biodiversity strategies to ensure that species and their ecosystems are resilient to environmental changes. We hope that our recommendations will be considered in future assessments worldwide.

Dr Sílvia Pérez-EsponaLecturer and Conservation Science Programme Coordinator, Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

Image credit: Alexa_Fotos on Pixabay

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