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Sciences.  FCUP professor warns against not monitoring genetic diversity

Sciences. FCUP professor warns against not monitoring genetic diversity

investigation. Genetic diversity is crucial for species to adapt to climate change

An international study involving Paulo Celio Alves, professor at the Department of Biology at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Porto and researcher at the Center for Research in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (BIOPOLIS-CIBIO), showed that current efforts to monitor genetic diversity in Europe are incomplete and insufficient. The researchers focused in particular on areas that would be particularly important for adaptation to increasing heat and drought.

This work was recently published in the prestigious journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, analyzing genetic diversity monitoring in Europe, identifying what each country is doing and which species are covered and how many. The study was conducted by 52 scientists representing 60 universities and research institutes from 31 countries.

Every living organism on our planet is distinguished from its peers by small differences in its genetic material. Thus, when the environment changes and becomes unsuitable for populations of organisms, this genetic variation can allow them to adapt to new conditions, rather than becoming extinct or having to migrate to other habitats. In simple terms, genetic diversity is one of the keys to species survival.

In this study, in addition to the lack of genetic monitoring work, the scientists concluded that the ones that do exist are strongly biased from a taxonomic point of view: “As expected, we found monitoring projects mainly targeting large carnivores, such as brown ones.” The bear, or wolf, is a distinctive species that also has political significance. There is practically no information about the species of other animal groups, such as birds, amphibians, insects and molluscs, as well as plants. This situation, characterized by an almost complete lack of information, is of concern mainly in places experiencing extreme climate events and high biodiversity, as occurs in Portugal,” says Paulo Celio Alves.

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Important information for species conservation

This information and analysis of genetic diversity and its changes over time in oceanic populations from a climatic point of view are of particular importance for conservation, because they allow measures to be taken to protect populations.

Species living at the climatic limits of their distribution area are likely to contain genetic variants favored by natural selection to cope with these adverse conditions.

Therefore, these ecologically peripheral areas can serve as reservoirs from which, through gene flow, adaptive variants can spread to populations in the main distribution area that will subsequently be affected by climate change. In this way, according to the researchers, it is possible to increase the global resilience of species.

The results show, as BIOPOLIS-CIBIO emphasizes on its page, that monitoring activities are incomplete and need to be completed. In particular in South-Eastern Europe (Turkey and the Balkans), more efforts are needed, because this region is underrepresented, but at the same time it is strongly affected by climate change and therefore hosts many reservoir groups with high adaptive capacity.

A monitoring strategy that is less biased from a geographical and taxonomic point of view, as well as systematic targeting of all environmental gradients and areas of high biodiversity, would constitute an important contribution to the protection of threatened species, many of which also provide invaluable services to humans, such as crop pollination. Or pest control.

Taking into account recent agreements to halt the decline of biodiversity, of which Portugal is a signatory, the study also highlights that it is urgent to implement monitoring systems for species in general, and their genetic diversity in particular, at a regional level. , national and international. This will allow better spatial planning and better support for conservation and ecosystem restoration actions, contributing to ensuring the survival of species and the services they provide.

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