Aligning science and policy to achieve evolutionarily enlightened conservation

Authors: Carly N Cook and Carla M Sgrò

Published in: Conservation Biology (early view)

Abstract

There is increasing recognition among conservation scientists that long-term conservation outcomes could be improved through better integration of evolutionary theory into management practices. Despite concerns that the importance of key concepts emerging from evolutionary theory (i.e., evolutionary principles and processes) are not being recognized by managers, there has been little effort to determine the level of integration of evolutionary theory into conservation policy and practice.

We assessed conservation policy at 3 scales (international, national, and provincial) on 3 continents to quantify the degree to which key evolutionary concepts, such as genetic diversity and gene flow, are being incorporated into conservation practice. We also evaluated the availability of clear guidance within the applied evolutionary biology literature as to how managers can change their management practices to achieve better conservation outcomes.

Despite widespread recognition of the importance of maintaining genetic diversity, conservation policies provide little guidance about how this can be achieved in practice and other relevant evolutionary concepts, such as inbreeding depression, are mentioned rarely. In some cases the poor integration of evolutionary concepts into management reflects a lack of decision-support tools in the literature. Where these tools are available, such as risk-assessment frameworks, they are not being adopted by conservation policy makers, suggesting that the availability of a strong evidence base is not the only barrier to evolutionarily enlightened management.

We believe there is a clear need for more engagement by evolutionary biologists with policy makers to develop practical guidelines that will help managers make changes to conservation practice. There is also an urgent need for more research to better understand the barriers to and opportunities for incorporating evolutionary theory into conservation practice.

Citation

Cook CN, Sgrò CM (2017) Aligning science and policy to achieve evolutionarily enlightened conservation. Conservation Biology, PDF DOI

Low genetic variation in cold tolerance linked to species distributions in butterflies

Authors: Jonathan MP Davis, Belinda van Heerwaarden, Carla M Sgrò, Jennifer A Donald and Darrell J Kemp

Published in: Evolutionary Ecology, volume 28, issue 3 (May 2014)

Abstract

Species with restricted distributions make up the vast majority of biodiversity.

Recent evidence from Drosophila suggests that species with restricted distributions may simply lack genetic variation in key traits, limiting their ability to adapt to conditions beyond their current range. Specifically, tropical species of Drosophila have been shown to have low means and low genetic variation for cold tolerance and desiccation tolerance.

It has therefore been predicted that these species will be limited in their response to future climatic changes. However whether these results extend beyond Drosophila is not known.

Eurema hecabe, one of three congeneric butterflies with contrasting Australian distributions. Image credit: AntanO [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons.

Eurema hecabe, one of three congeneric butterflies with contrasting Australian distributions. Image credit: AntanO [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons.

We assess levels of quantitative genetic variation for cold tolerance and body size in three species of butterfly from the genus Eurema that can be classified as tropically restricted (E. laeta), tropical/subtropical (E. hecabe) and widespread (E. smilax) in their distribution.

Compared to the more widely distributed species, we show that the tropically restricted E. laeta has significantly lower mean cold tolerance and lacks genetic variation for this trait. Thus, we empirically confirm in non-model organisms that low levels of genetic variation in a key ecological trait may play a role in limiting the distribution of tropically restricted species.

Citation

Davis J, van Heerwaarden B, Sgrò CM, Donald J, Kemp DJ (2014) Low genetic variation in cold tolerance linked to species distributions in butterflies. Evolutionary Ecology 28: 495-504 PDF DOI