Genetic Resource Conservation
by Crystal Baker
Northeastern State University


Conservation often includes well managed forestry techniques, but doesn’t account of the biodiversity among species, allopatric speciation, or allele frequency changes that eventually lead to changes in the species or speciation itself. By managing any given area, especially forests in tropical regions for genetic diversity, we can help conserve a wider variety of genetics, promoting naturally occurring evolution. These conservation practices must be introduced using environmental and non-environmental policies, including social and economic policies that indirectly affect the use of forests.

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Tropical forest in Martinique near the city of Fond St-Denis.
Many conservation efforts in the tropics, and indeed worldwide, have failed. Many are well thought out conservation plans or forestry management plans that help promote sustainable timber production but don’t account for or promote the rich biodiversity of the area. The following link is a youtube video titled "Why understanding Forest Genetic Diversity is vital for future options" <iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> As the building block of the evolutionary process, genetic diversity should be considered in all conservation efforts. Changing environments can still hold for continuous adaptation if evolutionary concepts are accommodated in the conservation efforts (Eriksson et al. 1993). Threats such as climate change, forest fragmentation, invasive species, and atmospheric pollution are all having adverse effects on forests worldwide, however, in the next 100 years, the changes in land use in the tropics is predicted to have a greater impact on the biome than any of the afore mentioned threats (Sala et al 2000).

For a conservation effort to succeed, it must take into account the needs of different groups and individuals and also the different non-environmental polices that can have an indirect effect on the use of the forests. But what can be done? By allowing timber harvest, which is necessary, you will always have a loss of biodiversity and degradation of the habitat (Bawa 1998). By implementing a multi step conservation effort, we get an idea of what might be a good start.
The first phase includes a total evaluation of the areas to be helped and setting priorities on species to be conserved, this includes determining what species live there, what we value from them, how they are valuable to the environment, and how all these species are connected. This is one of the hardest phases, because not much, if anything may be known about many of the species found in the given area. This also opens up many more questions that must be researched. Decision strategies may be necessary for the groups or governments doing the research, and setting up frameworks for standardization may be necessary and interchangeable in a given area. These strategies should look at not one or two species, but include all species, from fungi and plants to mammals and insects. The framework would attempt to prioritize species using parameters such as means for conservation, values, and threats to the species (IPGRI 2000). This framework would compile a ranking of priority or priority groups to be used by conservationists to implement new and necessary measures.

The second part of the plan is to locate the Genetic diversity of the area. Even as the decision making process is extremely useful, adequate genetic diversity information is necessary for any conservation effort. The amount of genetic diversity that an area holds, along with it’s level of threat are then used to give each area a ranking, which is essential to managing conservation areas effectively, helping to maintain evolutionary processes as well as safeguarding intra-specific diversity. (Boffa et al 2000).

Phase three begins the evaluation of conservation efforts. Conservation efforts often forget to look at social and economic factors, neglecting the cultures of the area. This is necessary for the project to succeed and locals should be used in the planning and implementation of any conservation efforts (Enters 2000). Many scientists and resource managers agree that there is no single conservation method that is wholly adequate and that many different methods should be used in a coordinated effort to reach the goals of the group or groups funding and manning the research efforts (Palmberg-Lerche 1999, Boffa 2000). There are a wide range of methods that could be used and the methods most likely to work, fit in the budget, and allow for the proper manpower should be implemented. To allow for evolutionary processes to be maintained, including the ability for the different species populations to adapt to the changing environmental conditions, in situ conservation practices should be used in most situations with little exception. This is important because as the climate changes, and human needs change, the populations are allowed to change in their natural environment as well. This also allows for the reproductive biology and survival, that is very dependant on ecological interactions that are often times very complex, to occur in their natural environment and occur over a longer period of time than ex situ conservation efforts. (In Situ 2012)

Many tropical settings are no longer undisturbed tropical forests; they have patchwork areas of disturbed forests, some mild, some severe, as well as agricultural lands and villages. The genetic effects of this fragmented landscape include a loss of genetic diversity for populations and specific species, population genetic structure changes, and an increased amount of inbreeding. Because of these forests that are no longer intact, it is important to have a clear understanding of gene flow, genetic drift, and selection and mating affects on diversity in these fragmented forests (Young 2000).

Inside the In Situ conservation areas being planned and established must consider things such as the location, number of different areas to be included, the number of individuals that area contains, and the size of the area (FAO 2002). Additional factors include: risk and threat levels (including land tenure issues), the number or abundance of the targeted priority species, the amount of support given by the local people, area shape, size, and presence of a buffer zone, terms of commitment, efficiency, and resources of the management agency, as well as the opportunity of conserve other priority species.

As detailed information on the distribution of genetic diversity is often unavailable, the above factors are important in the practical implementation of conservation efforts. Known or expected distribution of genetic variation can be used to select populations for conservation, so that the areas have the maximum genetic diversity for the priority groups.
Sustainable forest management can play a significant role in gene conservation. Many scientists believe that natural tropical forests can be managed in a sustainable manner, but that this is hindered by political, social, and economic factors (Reid 1997, Bawa 1998). Though this is a general consensus, more studies are needed on the genetic aspects of sustainable forest management.

Conservation on this scale requires a vast amount of data on complex phenomena and processes. This pushes the need for a more holistic approach worldwide. Since research is often unshared, mainly because of a lack of a suitable channel for distribution, research may be duplicated, or gone unused. Networking is necessary to collaborate with colleagues and gather the needed information and genetic data. This approach will help enhance the management and conservation in the tropics and worldwide.


New strategies are needed in order to conserve our World’s natural recourses. These strategies must be interdisciplinary and encompass environmental, social, and economic policies that both directly and indirectly affect the use of those recourses. Biodiversity is the cornerstone of truly sustainable and preservable resources. A successful conservation effort includes a broad planning process involving different environmental, governmental, and social groups. The process should begin with selecting priority species and should be based on the present or potential values of those species to both humans and the environment in which they are in and threats to those species. Genetic diversity is required if the conservation efforts are to be effective and multiple conservation methods should be used in correlation with each other, especially in situ conservation, which allows for natural genetic diversity and changes in the populations. Methods chosen must reflect both the budget, resources, and human power of the agencies involved while also considering the culture and ideas of the local peoples. Sustainable Forestry Management is important to help increase the biodiversity of the area, allowing for use of the forest without the destruction of and loss to genetic diversity. Information is always needed to help enhance conservation of biodiversity and genetic diversity, and more means of sharing that information is needed as well as many more studies on genetics of populations, themselves.

Bawa, K.S. 1998. Natural Forest management and conservation of biodiversity in tropical forests. Conservation Biology.12:46-55.

Boffa, K.S. 2000. In Situ conservation, genetic management, and sustainable use of tropical forests. Forests and Society: the role of research.Vol 1.

Enters, T. 2000.Rethinking stakeholders involvement in biodiversity conservation projects. Forest Conservation genetics: principles and practices.CSIRO Publishing.;jsessionid=5DDEC1B5BFB4A63C9D32BBCC86FBB812

Eriksson, G. 1993. Dynamic gene conservation for uncertain futures. Forest Ecology and Management.62: 15-37

FAO/DFSC/IPGRI. 2002. Forest Genetic resources conservation and management: In managed natural forests and protected natural areas (in situ). International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. Vol 2.

In Situ Conservation. Retreived 07/2012.

IPGRI. 2000. Research update on IPGR's forest Genetic Resources Projects. International Plant Genetic Resources Institute.

Palmberg-Lerche, C. 1999. Conservation and management of forest Genetic resources. Journal of Tropical Forest Science.11: 286-302.;MY2000000053

Reid, J.W. 1997. Assessing Natural Forest Management as a tool for tropical Forest Conservation. Ambio. 26: 382-386.

Sala, O.E. et al. 2000. Global Biodiversity Scenarios for the Year 2100. Science. 287: 1770-1774.

Young, A.G. 2000. Forest fragmentation. forest conservation genetics: principals and practice.CSIRO Publishing.