Global warming, other research from UCLA summit featured in journal

Molecular Ecology cover
Global warming and other human-induced ecological changes are outpacing the ability of species to adapt, resulting in greater threats of disease, reduced diversity in plant and animal communities, and an overall loss of natural heritage, according to research presented at a UCLA summit and published in the peer-reviewed journal Molecular Ecology.

The Jan. 3 edition of the journal is dedicated to research from the February 2007 "Evolutionary Change in Human-Altered Environments" conference, which was sponsored by the UCLA Institute of the Environment. The special issue includes 38 articles.

"Evolutionary change caused by human activities touches every ecosystem on the planet, yet our understanding of the processes and the long-term consequences remain poorly understood," conference co-organizers Thomas Smith, a UCLA biology professor and acting director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment, and Louis Bernatchez, Canadian Research Chair in Genomics and Conservation of Aquatic Resources at Université Laval in Quebec, write in the issue's preface.

Smith and Bernatchez recommend additional research and call for academia and policymakers to collaborate more closely to incorporate evolutionary studies in planning and to develop strategies to maximize and preserve evolutionary novelty and adaptability.

"Namely, but certainly not exclusively, the looming threats of climate change beg for more evolutionary studies, particularly those that rigorously explore and contrast environmental and genetic changes in natural populations," Smith and Bernatchez write.

Besides issues surrounding climate change, scientists — both those who attended the UCLA summit and those writing in Molecular Ecology — presented research showing that the survival of species can be adversely impacted by the introduction of non-plant and animal species into ecosystems and by the introduction of captive-bred species into wild populations. Scientists also showed how satellite mapping, DNA analysis and other advanced techniques can be used to help design reserves to help species adapt to climate change.

More than 300 scientists and policymakers from 20 countries attended the summit, which was designed to bring the discussion of environmental problems beyond academic boundaries to frame real-world solutions. Among those attending were top conservation biologists and university and government researchers, administrators from regulatory bodies such as the California Department of Fish and Game and the National Forest Service, and officials from leading nonprofit groups such as the Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"By bringing together top scientists and policymakers, the UCLA Institute of the Environment aims to develop strategies to address the crises facing our planet," Smith said. "We are working with the leaders of major international conservation organizations to build new alliances between university researchers and on-the-ground practitioners."

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