More than a tenth of global terrestrial genetic diversity may already be lost, study finds

More than a tenth of global terrestrial genetic diversity may already be lost, study finds

Artist’s concept illustrating the decrease in the geographic range of the rhinoceros and the loss of its genetic variability. Credit: Illustrations courtesy of Mark Belan,

According to a new study conducted by Moises Exposito-Alonso de Carnegie and published in Science. This means that it may already be too late to reach the proposed United Nations target, announced last year, of protecting 90% of the genetic diversity of each species by 2030, and that we must act. quickly to avoid further losses.

Several hundred species of animals and plants have disappeared in the industrialized era and human activity has affected or reduced half of the Earth’s ecosystems, affecting millions of species. Partial loss of geographic range decreases 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 meet the coming challenges of climate change.

“When you remove or fundamentally alter whole swaths of a species’ habitat, you limit the genetic richness available to help those plants and animals adapt to changing conditions,” explained Exposito-Alonso, who holds one of Carnegie’s prestigious Staff Associate positions, which recognizes early career excellence – and is also an Adjunct Professor, as a courtesy, at Stanford University.

Until recently, this important component has been overlooked when 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 range. geographical distribution.

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

Infographic illustrating how habitat loss is linked to loss of genetic diversity and risk of extinction. 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 could positively or negatively affect an individual organism’s ability to survive and reproduce, passing on the positive traits to future generations.

“As a result, the larger the pool of mutations a species is able to draw from, the greater the chance of stumbling across that lucky mix that will help a species thrive despite the pressures created by habitat loss, as well as temperature changes and precipitation patterns,” added Exposito-Alonso.

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

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

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

Infographic illustrating that the loss of genetic biodiversity is already exceeding United Nations conservation targets. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Mark Belan,

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

“Moi has taken a bold and creative approach to probing a science-based question that is crucial for policymakers and conservationists to understand if they are to implement strategies that will address the upcoming challenges facing our world. “said Margaret McFall-Ngai, director of Carnegie’s newly launched division. biosphere science and engineering. “This kind of intellectual courage exemplifies the Carnegie model of doing science outside the box and the kind of work that characterizes our prestigious 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 collaborators 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 could reduce the genetic variety of plants in central Europe

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

Provided by Carnegie Institution for Science

Quote: More than a tenth of the world’s terrestrial genetic diversity could already be lost, according to a study (2022, September 22) retrieved on September 22, 2022 from world-terrestrial-genetic-diversity.html

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