Conservation genetics is a branch of biology dedicated to maintaining genetic variation within individuals, species and populations through the use of genetic aids and tools. In comparison to other threats against biodiversity such as habitat loss or climate change, the loss of genetic variation may not seem to be an obivous concern. However, genetic variation can be a major cause of extinction and it acts synergistically with other threats such as overexploitation and climate change.
Genetic diversity is critical to the formation of new species and the development of new adaptations which species must adopt as the planet is undergoing major environmental change. In order to maximize evolutionary potential, the maintenance of diverse populations is vital. Furthermore, the maintenance of genetic diversity will assist in an organism’s ability to overcome other threats. For example, habitat fragmentation is a major contributor to species extinctions, but high levels of genetic diversity would allow organisms to acquire new traits allowing them to adapt to these changed environments.
Conservation genetics includes preserving the behavioural, morphological and physiological traits which organisms possess. This variation is what makes species so unique and allows for the array of ecosystem diversity which exists. Through the use of molecular methods such as karyotypes, allozymes analyses, the use of microsatellites and organelle DNA, genetic variation can be studied and this can aid in not only quantifying biodiversity, but in biological protection.
Conservation genetics is the branch of biology which considers the importance of protecting keystone species, culturally important species, the species which are currently exploited and charismatic megafauna. Through continued research and studies, biologists will further learn the fundamental role that genetic variation plays in natural populations and hopefully, they can establish methods for protecting it.
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