23 September 2022

Genetic diversity loss in the Anthropocene


Anthropogenic habitat loss and climate change are reducing species’ geographic ranges, increasing extinction risk and losses of species’ genetic diversity. Although preserving genetic diversity is key to maintaining species’ adaptability, we lack predictive tools and global estimates of genetic diversity loss across ecosystems. We introduce a mathematical framework that bridges biodiversity theory and population genetics to understand the loss of naturally occurring DNA mutations with decreasing habitat. By analyzing genomic variation of 10,095 georeferenced individuals from 20 plant and animal species, we show that genome-wide diversity follows a mutations-area relationship power law with geographic area, which can predict genetic diversity loss from local population extinctions. We estimate that more than 10% of genetic diversity may already be lost for many threatened and nonthreatened species, surpassing the United Nations’ post-2020 targets for genetic preservation.


Exposito-Alonso, Moises; Booker, Tom R.; Czech, Lucas; Gillespie, Lauren; Hateley, Shannon; Kyriazis, Christopher C.; Lang, Patricia L.M.; Leventhal, Laura; Nogués-Bravo, D.; Pagowski, Veronica; Ruffley, Megan; Spence, Jeffrey, P.; Arana, Sebastian E. Toro; Weiss, L. Clemens, and Zess, Erin. Genetic diversity loss in the Anthropocene, Science 377(6613).

DOI: 10.1126/science.abn5642