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Global warming and other research from UCLA summit featured in journal

Global warming and other human-caused ecological changes are outpacing the ability of species to adapt, resulting in greater threats of disease, reduced diversity in plant and animal communities, and an overall loss of natural heritage, according to research presented at a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) summit and published in the peer-reviewed journal Molecular Ecology.

The Jan. 3, 2008, edition of Molecular Ecology (online now at is dedicated to research presented at the conference Evolutionary Change in Human-altered Environments sponsored by the UCLA Institute of the Environment in February 2007. The Special Issue includes 38 peer-reviewed articles.

Evolutionary change caused by human activities touches every ecosystem on the planet, yet our understanding of the processes and the long-term consequences remain poorly understood, conference co-organizers Thomas Smith (UCLA biology professor and acting director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment) and Louis Bernatchez (Universit Laval in Quebec and Canadian Research Chair in Genomics and Conservation of Aquatic Resources) said in the Special Issues preface.

They called for additional research and for academia and policy makers to collaborate more closely to incorporate evolution in planning and to develop strategies to maximize and preserve evolutionary novelty and adaptability. Namely, but certainly not exclusively, the looming threats of climate change beg for more evolutionary studies, particularly those that rigorously explore and contrast environmental and genetic changes in natural populations, Smith and Bernatchez said.

Besides issues surrounding climate change, scientists attending the UCLA summit and writing in Molecular Ecology presented research showing the survival of species can be adversely impacted by the introduction of non-plant and animal species and by the introduction of captive-bred species into wild populations. Scientists showed how satellite mapping, DNA analysis, and other advanced techniques can be used to help design reserves to help species adapt to climate change.

More than 300 scientists and policymakers from 20 countries attended the UCLA summit, which was designed to bring the discussion of environmental problems beyond academic boundaries to frame real-world solutions. Among those attending were top conservation biologists and university and government researchers, administrators from regulatory bodies such as the California Department of Fish and the National Forest Service, and officials from leading non-profit groups such as the Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

By bringing together top scientists and policymakers, the UCLA Institute of the Environment aims to develop strategies to address the crises facing our planet, Smith said. We are working with the leaders of major international conservation organizations to build new alliances between university researchers and on-the-ground practitioners.

Contact: Finbar Galligan

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