By Lydia Fowler
Biodiversity and animal populations are essential for life. However, factors such as climate change, poaching and increased industrialisation has led to many species becoming endangered or even extinct.
In order to combat this, and prevent further extinction, conservation methods in zoos are used to prevent further death within the species and potentially increase numbers through breeding programmes.
However, even with current methods to prevent inbreeding including stud books, the use of limited numbers of a males in a species to increase the population reduces the genetic diversity due to inbreeding.
An international treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has been created under the UN and signed by 195 nations including the European Union. A plan which has been called the “post-2020 global diversity framework” was released in January by the Secretariat of this convention detailing goals and targets for biodiversity conservation. This includes highlighting the need to stop biodiversity loss and “live in harmony with biodiversity” by 2050.
Five objectives are set out within this framework: protecting ecosystems, species and genes; advancing sustainable development and “ensuring equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of biodiversity and traditional knowledge”.
Scientists have found that, although genetic diversity maintenance is one of the main objectives, it appears as if the goals are focused on only maintaining domesticated and cultivated species, and on the wild relatives of species that are “useful”.
This has led to a letter being assembled, signed by researchers at Cardiff, and published in the journal “Science” stating the importance of maintaining genetic diversity in all species and not just ones that are seen as useful to humans. It also mentions the importance of implementing “strategies to halt genetic erosion and preserve the adaptive potential of populations of wild and domesticated species”. To ensure this, the letter proposes better use of indicators to monitor genetic diversity in order to prevent the loss of genetic differentiation within populations.
On the purpose of the letter, Professor Mike Bruford, who is the co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Conservation Genetics Specialist Group at Cardiff said “This letter is a timely warning that at a time when the world’s conservation community is taking critical steps to halt the further loss of global biodiversity, genetic variation must be maintained and enhanced where possible, if not, we risk a world where genetically inviable, poorly adapted and vulnerable populations will increasingly struggle to avoid extinction.”
It is hoped that this letter will be taken into account when looking at measures to improve the biodiversity of all animals, useful or otherwise.