Working Group Roundup: Conservation Genetics

The Society for Conservation Biology’s Conservation Genetics Working Group (SCB CGWG) is a global community of conservation-minded people interested in the application of genetics to the conservation of biological diversity. The CGWG is currently composed of over 200 conservation scientists from over 30 countries hailing from five continents.

Our vision is to promote the use of genetics in conservation by creating and sustaining a community of conservation scientists that are aware of how genetics can contribute to conservation decisions. The founding of SCB had strong roots in evolutionary biology.  We would like to uphold this tradition within the Society. With this in mind, we aim to bridge the gap between genetics and the rest of the conservation community, to minimize the conservation genetics “echo chamber” where only fellow geneticists are aware of our work, and to reach the wider conservation biology community through improved communication of our research. Conservation genetics is a well-established discipline, however a review from Taylor and Soanes (2016) shows that at scientific meetings, conservation genetics studies are often relegated to methods based sessions, rather than being incorporated in sessions more broadly based on research questions. Thus, we have work to do to integrate conservation genetics within the rest of the conservation community.

Genetic study and understanding is vital to our ability to protect and restore species and ecosystems. Genes are the basis for evolutionary change and adaptation and, for that reason genetic variation is an important determinant of long term population viability; the more genetic variation a population has, the higher the likelihood of adapting to changes in the environment. As populations become smaller, the effects of genetic inbreeding and drift often result in lower genetic diversity, decreasing the chance of survival for populations facing new environmental stressors – a phenomenon called the ‘extinction vortex’.

No matter our systems, methods or sub-discipline, extinction is an outcome that we work hard to prevent, and most of us would agree that:

“…the study of life becomes a hollow, rarefied pursuit if the very animals and plants that fired our imaginations as children and triggered our curiosity as students should perish.

- M Soulé and BA Wilcox

Only through multidisciplinary approaches will we be able to protect species from reaching extinction tipping points, and the CGWG will work to increase our ability to avoid those tipping points through the improved incorporation of genetic understanding to the conservation process. We hope that both geneticist and non-geneticists in our society will join us in this endeavour.

We have various active committees that members can join, each responsible for addressing specific goals in the group. If you want to join us, follow the instructions on this link and register to our listserv where we have more active discussions. Finally, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @SCBConGen and Facebook (SCB Conservation Genetics Working Group)!


The CGWG board

Soraia Barbosa, Mariah Meek, Nick Fletcher and Cinnamon Mittan