Evolutionary approaches to rescuing populations

Species don’t go extinct overnight. First they go through a period of decline, and this is our chance to save them. By paying careful attention to the genetic variation within the species we can bring this genetic variation to bear on recovering populations. By introducing particular genes to a population we can make that population robust to the threats they face (e.g., introducing toad-smart genes into populations impacted by cane toads; or warm-adapted genes and zooxanthellae to coral populations threatened with bleaching). The great advantage of this approach is that it makes use of natural variation and produces a lasting solution to a conservation problem without the need for management in perpetuity. It is effective, and it is great value for money.

The School of BioSciences is a world leader in this field, applying these approaches to the impacts of climate change on reef-building corals, the impact of toads on native predators, and to the recovery of the mountain pygmy possum. The work has only just begun, however. There is a huge list of species around the world that can benefit from this approach. Additional research funds would allow this urgent research to be upscaled, and the implementation stage to be reached much more quickly.