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Hope for Dwindling Numbers: Small Animal Populations Can Still Adapt to Environmental Change

Aug 19, 2016 07:11 AM EDT
A study published in Evolutionary Applications explains that even small populations of species can still respond to natural selection and the changing environment.
(Photo : ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

The dwindling population of so many endangered animals is heartbreaking, but a new research reveals that things aren't totally hopeless after all.

According to a report from Concordia California, the study published in Evolutionary Applications explained that even small populations of species can still respond to natural selection and the changing environment.

"Our research shows that, just because an animal or plant is few in numbers, that doesn't necessarily mean that they can't be brought back from the brink of extinction -- they might still possess enough genetic diversity to respond to changing conditions through natural selection," Dylan Fraser, one of the study's authors and biology professor, explained. "I wouldn't advocate that we can hammer down every species. There are a number of concerns always, but from a genetic standpoint, small population size may not be as bad as we initially thought."

The group gathered their data by perusing empirical studies from 1980 to 2014, crafting a database that tracks natural selection and the amount of genetic diversity underlying traits needed to adapt to environmental change. The study included 146 population groups across 83 different species of plants and animals.

"Our results don't jibe with the widespread view that small populations should have lower amounts of genetic variation," Fraser said. "We observed no significant effects of population size on genetic variance in our analysis."

Conservation efforts are gaining traction as international scientists recently called for action to prevent the extinction of the world's terrestrial megafauna such as gorillas, lions, tigers and more, a report published in BioScience from Oxford Journals revealed.

The report highlighted the urgency of conservation efforts pointing out that 59 percent of the world's largest carnivores and 60% of the world's largest herbivores are listed as threatened with extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

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