Climate, Evolutionary Biology, and Conservation

Evolutionary biology and practical conservation: bridging a widening gap

Molecular Ecology, Volume 17 Issue 1 Page 9-19, January 2008

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Correspondence: Georgina M. Mace, Fax: 01344
873173; E-mail:

Keywords: biodiversity goals, conservation planning, evolution, policy

“Habitat conversion continues in most parts of the world, especially in areas of high species richness, and novel threats, especially climate change, will pose new challenges.”

“Not all populations or species are equally likely to become extinct. Vulnerability to local extinction is commonly associated with low abundance, high habitat specificity, large body size and slow reproductive rates. In cases where both body size and life history have been studied, life history has been shown to be more important in carnivores (Cardillo et al. 2004; Purvis et al. 2000b) and, interestingly, in the extinction of large mammals in the late Quaternary (Johnson 2002). …. Top predators also appear to be especially threatened in mammals (Purvis et al. 2000a; Cardillo et al. 2004). ”

” Similarly, among the mammalian carnivores high threat rates are found in species that inhabit areas of high human population density (Cardillo et al. 2004). …. For example, large body size is often associated with present-day vulnerability, but is only patchily linked with extinction rates in the prehuman past (Purvis et al. 2003)”

“While the major drivers of biodiversity loss (overexploitation, habitat loss, introduced species, climate change and pollution) remain there is little likelihood that the trends will be slowed or reversed in the near future, and every likelihood that further losses will result, unless major changes in policy and practice are implemented (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005a).”

“Developing species recovery plans

“This is the most obvious point at which evolutionary processes could and should be prioritized (Ashley et al. 2003). Opportunities for continued evolution and adaptive change can be encouraged by relatively simple mechanisms. For example, ensuring adequate genetic diversity by maintaining connectedness of related populations, starting with high levels of genetic diversity, avoiding inbreeding, and preserving the species across the range of habitats in which it is found, as well as at significant boundaries such as ecotones. These simple mechanisms will increase the adaptive nature of the landscape, and the potential for evolutionary change in response to it.

“One obstacle is the potential for over-emphasizing the differences between population subunits and attempting to conserve as separate units any population subunit for which evidence of reproductive isolation or genetic distinctiveness can be found. With the increasing precision and rigour of molecular genetic tools it is rare, given sufficient time and effort, for some genetic distinctiveness not to be found, albeit a result of recent genetic drift or random founder effects and having little consequence for adaptive distinctiveness. While the incorporation of molecular methods into the assessment of conservation units (such as ESUs; Moritz 1995) provided welcome rigour and clarity, uncritical application of these methods can be detrimental to the broader goal of preserving adaptive diversity.”

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This article is cited by:

(2008) Evolutionary change in human-altered environments. Molecular Ecology 17:1, 1-8

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