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Biodiversity is both the raw material and the ultimate product of evolution

Monday, 26 April 2010

EPBRS Meeting 2010 "Evolution and Biodiversity" Mini-interviews

Stefan Schindler
Austrian Platform for Biodiversity Research

Pablo Vargas
Royal Botanic Garden, Spanish Research Council

Scott Carroll
Institute for Contemporary Evolution

Yiannis Matsinos
Department of Environmental Studies, University of the Aegean

Martin Sharman
Directorate General for Research, European Comission

Isabel Sousa Pinto
CIMAR and Faculty of Sciences, University of Porto

Edit Kovács-Láng
Institute of Ecology and Botany, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Vladimir Vershinin
Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology, Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Concept: Luis Santamaría & Pablo F. Méndez
Interviews and editing by: Pablo F. Méndez
Laboratory of Spatial Ecology (Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies)

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Biodiversity loss: the greatest challenge

Biodiversity loss is probably the greatest challenge facing humanity today. This challenge was already apparent during the second half of the past century, and its realization crystallized in the Rio’92 Earth Summit. However, the wave of sympathy and action awakened by Rio Summit has faded over time, and progress towards its goals has been moderate at best.

Today, and despite ambitious policies such as the “2010 goal”, rates of biodiversity loss keep growing at an increased rate. With the world’s attention almost exclusively focused on climate change, a recent review focused on identifying planetary boundaries for human welfare identified Biodiversity loss as the most critical. Extinction rates, which surpass sustainability standards by several orders of magnitude, compromise the ability of ecosystems to sustain human necessities and severely aggravate the impact of other stressors. Our capacity to face the challenges posed by climate change, food and health security, or population growth, to cite but some of the most important, will critically depend on our ability to slow and finally halt biodiversity loss.

The mention made to extinction rates measured over recent evolutionary history pinpoints the background setting on which biodiversity is continuously generated and loss. Evolutionary processes are ultimately responsible for the generation and maintenance of biodiversity, and provide the thread that integrates the various organization levels at which it is defined: genetic, species, community and landscape.

Evolutionary forces built and shaped extant biodiversity over historical times, and the genetic makeup of today’s populations and species is a manuscript in which we can read its ancient and recent signatures.

Evolutionary processes are affected by human action, with unforeseen (and often unwanted) consequences on species, communities and even ecological processes. Think for example of the selection pressures exerted by commercial fisheries or the game industry, on the phenotype and life-history of their target species.

Evolutionary processes, finally, may hold the key to improve our responses to global change. The growing literature on contemporary evolution illustrates how surprisingly fast evolutionary responses can be. In a rapidly changing world, the capacity to understand and anticipate these responses could provide us with a badly-needed tool to navigate the unexpected.

Evolutionary processes can therefore be of pervasive importance. However, they are rarely incorporated into biodiversity conservation and management, even less into policies aimed at ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources. One of the obvious reasons should be apparent to all of us: the complexity of these processes will only add to the pervasive complexity of the ecological and socio-economic systems targeted by these policies.

Times are nonetheless exciting: during the last decade, the development of powerful analytical tools in the fields of molecular and population genetics, remote sensing and information technology have facilitated a revolution in the study of evolutionary and ecological processes, and the time is ripe to facilitate their integration into ongoing management actions.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Evolution and Biodiversity: The evolutionary basis of biodiversity and its potential for adaptation to global change

Evolutionary processes are ultimate responsible for the generation and maintenance of biodiversity. However, they are rarely considered in management actions and policies aimed at preserving biodiversity and the goods and services it provides. Forthcoming policies aimed at reducing the current loss of biodiversity and facing the challenges posed by its interaction with climate change, food security or health security would benefit considerably from an explicit incorporation of current knowledge on evolutionary processes. Existing knowledge gaps and sources of uncertainty that limit the incorporation of evolutionary knowledge to biodiversity and global change policies should be identified and addressed through targeted research programs, in order to enhance the potential success of such policies.

The meeting is is an official event of the Spanish EU Presidency, organized by the Spanish Research Council (CSIC) in collaboration with the Steering Committee of EPBRS. It will discuss how science can help policy makers identify priority areas for research on the interplay between evolutionary processes and biodiversity patterns, in addition to the effect of anthropogenic pressures upon them, and will generate recommendations on research priorities within the EU.

The meeting will be organized in three thematic sessions:

1. The evolutionary basis of biodiversity: strategies to manage and preserve evolutionary processes, and their likely impact on biodiversity

2. Evolutionary responses to anthropogenic pressures, including global change

3. Evolution in complex systems and co-evolutionary networks: managing complexity in the face of uncertainty

Themetic sessions will involve the preparaton of draft recommendations in workout groups, and its discussion and adoption in a plenary sessions. They will build on the discussions and recommendations on a three-weeks electronic conference, and on preparatory keynote addresses by Scott P. Carrol (Univ. of California, Davis), R. Zardoya (MNCN-CSIC, Spain) and S. Hille (University of Applied Sciences, Vienna).