Scientists are aiming little ray gun-like devices, called leaf clips, at plants in an attempt to better understand biodiversity as environments respond to the climate crisis.

 Scientists use Ray Gun-like Device known as leaf clips

Not unlike the tricorder used to perform environment scans in “Star Trek,” the nifty gadget is a type of spectroradiometer that helps record how plant leaves reflect light differently — which actually reveals how genetically diverse one plant population is from another.In a new study, a team of scientists used the leaf clip to record light reflected off plant leaves of two species of an evergreen shrub on different Alaskan mountains. The two plants were Dryas alaskensis and Dryas ajanensis. The populations of plants that the team analyzed on neighboring mountains were genetically different. This means that even though they are only separated by a few miles, the populations are genetically isolated because they aren’t sharing pollen.

Understanding the genetic diversity of these plants, as well as their need for conservation, fits into the broader goal of protecting Earth’s natural biodiversity

A valuable field tool

Genetic diversity for species health

Understanding the genetics of plant populations can help scientists preserve those that are threatened or endangered.”Genetic diversity is really the driver of evolution and a mechanism that ensures the long-term survival of a species in a changing world,” Stasinski said. “The more genetic populations we conserve, the more likely that species will contain genes within its gene pool that will allow it to adapt to change. The genetic differences between two populations could hint at how each are responding to local climate change.”If a plant population needs to adapt to increasing temperatures, the genes may adapt over generations and correspond to attributes that help the plant dissipate that heat.

Why it took nearly 50 years for scientists to name this mysterious tropical plant”Now that we understand that each one of these mountaintops is genetically unique, that means that there are implications for conservation,” said Rick Ree, a study coauthor and curator at the Field Museum, in a statement. “If we want to try and maintain genetic diversity through time, especially given the shrinking habitats of alpine ecosystems due to climate change, then the implication (is) that we should be sampling from every mountaintop.

Biodiversity is an essential part of maintaining clean water, fresh air and healthy soils, Stasinski explained. A diversity of species across ecological niches help maintain healthy ecosystems, he said.”Humans are not disconnected from ecosystem health, so it is crucial that we study and maintain biodiversity to, at the very least, ensure the survival of our species, but optimally to preserve the beauty and diversity of life that we are fortunate enough to cohabitate with,” Stasinski said. “This concept of conserving biodiversity is especially crucial in the face of climate change considering that biodiversity is already responding to the changing world.”

Originally published by CNN

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