Scientists describe ‘hidden biodiversity crisis’ as variation within species is lost

Many of the benefits people receive from nature depend on diversity within species, but this intraspecific variation is poorly understood and declining rapidly

Nature has always been a source of artistic inspiration and materials, and variation, both across species and within species, an important contributor to art and culture. This painting illustrates intraspecific variation in sockeye salmon runs and was created from natural botanical pigments foraged from North American native species, including Western red cedar (bark), red alder (cones), staghorn sumac (berries), and salal (berries). (Illustration by Simone Des Roches)

Tim Stephens | UCSC | March 1, 2021

The rapid loss of variation within species is a hidden biodiversity crisis, according to the authors of a new study looking at how this variation supports essential ecological functions and the benefits nature provides for people.

Published March 1 in Nature Ecology and Evolution, the study highlights the need to better understand and conserve variation within species in order to safeguard nature’s contributions to people.

“Biodiversity means more than the number of species, and when we focus on species-level extinctions we are missing part of the story,” said corresponding author Eric Palkovacs, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz. “Intraspecific variation is a neglected aspect of biodiversity, but it has value for people, and we need to start recognizing that and protecting this form of biodiversity.”

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