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What is genetic biodiversity?

Genetic diversity in Idotea balthicaPhoto: Pierre deWit

Genetic diversity is the biological variation that occurs within species. It makes it possible for species to adapt when the environment changes. Thus, large genetic diversity positively affects ecosystem resilience and function.

When we drain species of their genetic diversity we destroy their adaptive potential, and their long-term survival will be jeopardised. Genetic diversity is particularly important under rapid environmental change, such as in the Baltic Sea.

Biological diversity at several levels by Jerker Lokrantz/Azote
Biological variation at the DNA-level forms the basis for all biodiversity. Colors represent alleles – variants of separate genes. 
Illustration: Jerker Lokrantz/Azote

Keep populations large and connected

Most species are subdivided into local populations, which are more or less genetically distinct. The reason for the subdivision is often a combination of local adaptation and isolation. If isolation increases, for instance due to loss of nearby populations, genetic variation will likely decrease over time.

The most efficient way to counteract loss of genetic diversity is to maintain large and well connected populations. Small and isolated populations will rapidly lose genetic variation resulting in lower adaptive capacity, loss of resilience and weak potential for long-term survival.

Large vs small populations by Jesper Lokrantz/AzoteLarge populations can harbour much genetic diversity (illustrated with many colours). Small populations can not do that and will rapidly loose variation. Illustration: Jerker Lokrantz/Azote

Connectivity prevents genetic loss

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