This evidence is being submitted to the Biodiversity and Ecosystems Call for Evidence by Profs Mike Bruford (Cardiff University) and Rob Ogden (Edinburgh University), who are members of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Conservation Genetics Specialist Group (CGSG) and whose research and policy interests are focused on genetic diversity and its role in the conservation of ecosystems, species and populations of both wild and domestic animals and plants. CGSG’s mission is to promote the use of genetics in conservation management and decision making, to assist the Commission in applying genetics to threatened species and to lead the development and analysis of genetic data in conservation. We are making this submission because of our concern that genetic diversity is currently underperforming and not sufficiently considered in conservation planning across the UK. We submit this evidence to suggest a mechanism, already implemented in Scotland, whereby this situation may be rectified. We focus on a subset of the issues identified in the Call for Evidence where genetic diversity is relevant and requires consideration.
Professor Michael W Bruford, Cardiff University and co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Conservation Genetics Specialist Group
Professor Rob Ogden, University of Edinburgh and member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Conservation Genetics Specialist Group
The state of biodiversity:
- How effectively is the Government monitoring the impact of UK activities on biodiversity, at home and abroad?
Currently the UK lacks a monitoring scheme for genetic diversity, one of the three main elements of biodiversity, either for domesticated or wild species (see response on Aichi Target 13, below). The only indicator currently used to assess progress is the trend in number of livestock breeds, which we and others have argued to be a wholly inadequate indicator to address Aichi Target 13 and which neglects the vast majority of wild species completely (Laikre et al 2020; Hoban et al 2020). There is an urgent need to develop a national strategy to correct this situation.
- How has the Government performed against the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and what further progress is needed?
We are performing poorly on genetic diversity, the subject of Aichi Target 13, even though our interpretation of Aichi Target 13 is currently (at a UK level) very restrictive. The text of Aichi Target 13 states that “By 2020, the genetic diversity of cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and of wild relatives, including other socio-economically as well as culturally valuable species, is maintained, and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.”
The United Kingdom’s 6th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, reports mainly on ex situ collections, gene-banks and on aspects of the persistence of domesticated species and their wild relatives. There are a number of inadequacies with this response:
- Little or no mention is made of the other species covered by the Target (socio-economically and culturally valuable species), no monitoring is in place for these organisms. The report admits that: “…progress is assessed as insufficient in recognition of published declines in the effective population size of some native animal breeds..”. However, since no monitoring is in place for wild species that come within the target’s description at all, we have no idea how we are progressing, although other indictors (e.g. the State of Nature Report 2019) would indicate a decline in population size and a likely concomitant decline in genetic diversity for a proportion of these species.
- The report does not take advantage of the substantial body of genetic data and scientific publications gleaned from the DNA of UK domestic and wild species (and produced over the last three decades) to assess whether genetic diversity is being conserved within the genomes of these organisms. This oversight results in the exclusion of the most fundamental evidence available for assessing trends in genetic diversity. Thus, we contend that the current means of assessing progress in genetic diversity being employed at a UK level are inadequate.
- Looking forward, we and others have argued that it is important to progress beyond the current Aichi Target 13, to include wild species of all kinds, the genetic diversity of which underpins their survival and contribution to important ecosystems and their services. Several high-profile scientific articles have recently made this case (Laikre et al. 2020; Hoban et al. 2020).
- Scottish Natural Heritage has led the way in integrating genetic assessment into biodiversity reporting (Hollingsworth et al 2020), by developing criteria to identify and evaluate genetic diversity in species of socio-economic/cultural value (sensu Aichi Target 13) and have produced Genetic ‘Scorecards’ for each of these (26) species. We strongly recommend that this approach is rolled out at the UK level and by the other three governmental nature agencies and built into a nationwide framework for monitoring genetic diversity.
- Where should the four nations prioritise resources to tackle biodiversity loss?
As stated above, adoption, implementation and extension of the Genetic Scorecard scheme developed in Scotland should be a priority at a UK and UK nation-level. In principle it should extend beyond threatened species to include a diversity of key indicator species for ecosystem health and function, and especially for species being used and managed to provide nature-based solutions for biodiversity conservation and environmental protection.
Co-ordination of UK environmental policy:
- What outcomes and protections should the UK Government be pushing for at the forthcoming UN negotiations on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP 15?
We and others have argued that CBD signatory nations should be advocating for more meaningful approaches to monitoring and evaluating changes in genetic diversity over the coming decade. A direct submission was made on 21st April 2020 to the CBD Secretariat for consideration at the upcoming Montreal meeting of the CBD’s Subsidiary Body On Scientific, Technical And Technological Advice, by a group of experts working for the Earth Commission, including the authors of this submission, entitled “Synthesizing the scientific evidence to inform the development of the post-2020 Global Framework on Biodiversity” that has been circulated for national comment. This submission argues for the retention of the five high level goals on the conservation of nature written in the zero draft, including Goal C, “By 2030, genetic erosion of all wild and domesticated species is halted and, by 2050, the genetic diversity of populations is restored and their adaptive capacity is safeguarded.”
- Hayhow DB, Eaton MA, Stanbury AJ, Burns F, Kirby WB, Bailey N, Beckmann B, Bedford J, Boersch-Supan PH, Coomber F, Dennis EB, Dolman SJ, Dunn E, Hall J, Harrower C, Hatfield JH, Hawley J, Haysom K, Hughes J, Johns DG, Mathews F, McQuatters-Gollop A, Noble DG, Outhwaite CL, Pearce-Higgins JW, Pescott OL, Powney GD and Symes N (2019) The State of Nature 2019. The State of Nature partnership.
- Laikre L, Hoban S, Bruford MW, Segelbacher G, Allendorf FW, Gajardo G, González Rodríguez A, Hedrick PW, Heuertz M, Hohenlohe PA, Jaffé R, Johannesson K, Liggins L, MacDonald AJ, Orozco-terWengel P, Reusch TBH, Rodríguez-Correa H, Russo IM, Ryman N, Vernesi C (2020) Post-2020 goals overlook genetic diversity. Science 367: 1083-1085.
- Hoban S, Bruford M, D’Urban Jackson J, Fernandes-Lopes M, Heuertz4, M, Hohenlohe PA, Sjögren-Gulve P, Segelbacher G, Vernesi C, Aitken S, Bertola LD, Bloomer P, Breed M, Rodríguez-Correa H, Funk WC, Grueber CE, Hunter ME, Jaffe R, Liggins L, Mergeay J, Moharrek F, O’Brien D, Ogden R, Palma-Silva C, Paz-Vinas I, Pierson J, Ramakrishnan U, Simo-Droissart M, Tani N, Waits L, Laikre L (2020) Improving genetic diversity targets and indicators in the CBD post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Biol Cons. 248: 108654.
- Hollingsworth PM, O’Brien D, Ennos RA, Ahrends A, Ballingall KT, Brooker RW, Burke T, Cavers S, Dawson IK, Elston DA, Kerr J, Marshall DF, Neaves L, Pakeman RJ, Trivedi C, Wall E, Wright F, Yahr R, Bean C, Blake D, Campbell R, Comont R, Finger A, Fraser K, Genney D, Hall J, Hannah A, Jehle R, Jones S, Kohn D, Llewellyn M, Lurz P, Macdonald I, McIntosh J, Mitchell R, O’Dell J, Page S, Pemberton J, Pérez-Espona S, Piertney S, Sime I, Thompson D, Ogden R (2020) Scotland’s Biodiversity Progress to 2020 Aichi Targets Aichi Target 13 – Genetic Diversity Maintained – Supplementary Report 2020. Scottish Natural Heritage.
- Convention on Biological Diversity (2020) CBD/SBSTTA/24/INF/9 - synthesizing the scientific evidence to inform the development of the post-2020 global framework on biodiversity.