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News Release - Queen's University researchers warn that loss of genetic variation means species are less adaptable to climate change

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Queen’s University researcher Vicki Friesen (Biology) and former postdoctoral fellow Debbie Leigh are sounding the alarm over the increasing loss of the genetic variation that allows species to adapt to the rapid and drastic environmental changes being generated by human activity.

Genetic variation is part of what makes individuals different. In plants and animals this can lead to differences in how they look as well as important differences in migration behavior, flowering time, or reproductive success. These differences within a species allow for adaptation to change.

Drs. Friesen and Leigh’s research has shown that genetic variation within species has declined by six per cent since the industrial revolution, which means species are less adaptable to climate change and, therefore, more vulnerable to extinction.

Quotes

“We are losing populations, and, in some cases, we are losing entire species. Loss of genetic variation increases the risk of extinction, especially on islands, where the loss of genetic variation is higher than on continents.”

“We can’t be calm about this. Climate change is affecting our world right now, and the outlook for future generations is bleak. The loss of biodiversity is actually an even bigger problem than the climate crisis, and it’s irreversible. But we don’t hear as much about it. There is a rising level of awareness and anxiety about these issues among scientists.”

- Queen’s University biology professor Vicki Friesen 

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Anne Craig

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anne.craig@queensu.ca

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