Study Urges Boosting Europe's Genetic Biodiversity for Climate Protection

Genetic variability, a key factor in species’ ability to resist heat, drought, and the encroachment of new species, emerges as a key element in their long-term survival strategy.

In a groundbreaking international study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, researchers emphasize the critical role of genetic diversity in the survival of European plant and animal species faced with the challenges of climate change. The study, co-directed by the University of Lausanne (UNIL), sheds light on the necessity to protect and monitor genetic variability within wild species, a dimension of biodiversity that has been historically overlooked.

As global warming continues to exert pressure on species in Europe, particularly those at the limits of their climatic range, the study highlights the importance of genetic diversity in helping populations adapt to new environmental conditions. Genetic variability, a key factor in species’ ability to resist heat, drought, and the encroachment of new species, emerges as a crucial element in their long-term survival strategy.

The research, led by Peter Pearman and involving 52 scientists from 60 universities and research institutes across 31 countries, identifies a concerning lack of efforts in monitoring genetic diversity, particularly in areas located in the South-East, such as Turkey and the Balkans.

The team at UNIL, led by Olivier Broennimann and Antoine Guisan, contributed significantly to the study by developing a unique tool to pinpoint geographical areas requiring priority monitoring.

The findings underscore the need for enhanced genetic diversity monitoring programs in Europe, with a particular focus on sensitive regions rich in genetic diversity. The study reveals that without improved monitoring, there is a risk of losing crucial genetic variants, which play a vital role in maintaining ecosystems, agricultural processes, crop pollination, water purification, and climate regulation.

The study also highlights the urgency of better international monitoring of species and their genetic diversity, aligning with recent international agreements aimed at halting biodiversity decline, a commitment that Switzerland has actively endorsed.

Enhanced monitoring, the researchers argue, will not only facilitate better land-use planning but also support conservation and ecosystem restoration actions, ultimately ensuring the persistence of species and the essential services they provide to humanity.

As part of the study’s recommendations, the researchers propose a more systematic approach to genetic diversity monitoring programs, encompassing all regions rich in genetic diversity and adapting to potential climate change impacts. The call for action resonates with the global community’s efforts to address biodiversity decline and underscores the need for collaborative measures to safeguard our planet’s diverse ecosystems.