[ASC-media] Media Release: Evolution Must Be Fast-Tracked to Protect Biodiversity

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Tue Mar 30 23:34:58 CEST 2010

For immediate release

Evolution Must Be Fast-Tracked to Protect Biodiversity

Evolution of Australia’s native plants and animals must be fast-tracked if our biodiversity is to survive an environment that is rapidly changing due to climate change and extreme stress from bushfires, according to a leading ecologist and entomologist.

Writing in the April issue of Australasian Science magazine, published today, Professor Ary Hoffmann of The University of Melbourne advocates a radical approach arising from recent research: “The effects of natural selection can become apparent extremely rapidly – a few years is ample time. Some populations have now evolved and adapted to global climate change occurring over the past few decades.

“There are plants that have evolved to flower earlier to avoid dry conditions in summer, and insects that have evolved to come out of inactive winter diapause earlier and take advantage of warmer winters. Even birds have evolved to migrate to new areas where food resources have appeared.”

While the hot and dry conditions of early 2009 killed hundreds of thousands of individuals of various life forms, it is doubtful that these conditions would have had much impact on life in inland areas where long, hot and dry periods have been the norm for thousands of years.

“When some individuals survive hot conditions whereas others perish, we are witnessing natural selection and evolution in action,” Hoffman says. “We can help meet this challenge by promoting selection and evolution – increasing the ability of our plant and animal populations to evolve and deal with changing conditions.

“When we re-establish natives in our gardens, along roadsides and in our parks, we should use plants with genes that are going to cope well with conditions in the future. By using mixtures of seeds from local areas and other locations that reflect the future environment, we create a diversity of genes upon which natural selection can act. The individuals that survive and reproduce will help found new populations that are well-adapted to new conditions as these develop.

“This approach requires changes in the way we produce nursery stock, revegetate degraded areas, value tracts of remnant vegetation and even manage our endangered species. The most valuable tracts will contain mixtures of genes and be capable of evolving to deal with future conditions.

“Our nursery stocks need to be bred for diversity, not for uniformity, as is commonly undertaken. Vegetation schemes have to aim to create treed landscapes under conditions expected in 2030 and 2050, not within a short 10 years.”

Summaries and quotations of selected passages for reporting or review are permissible provided AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE is credited as the source of this story.


Professor Hoffmann on 0408 342 834

For a full copy or for permission to reproduce this article or a photo of Professor Hoffmann call the Editor, Guy Nolch, on (03) 9500 0015 or Senior Correspondent, Peter Pockley, on (02) 9660 6363.

Guy Nolch
Editor, Australasian Science
Box 2155 Wattletree Rd PO
VIC 3145 Australia

Phone: 61-3-9500 0015
Fax: 61-3- 9500 0255
Web: www.australasianscience.com.au
ABN 46 006 591 304

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