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Global warming may threaten endangered species


UC Riverside’s Derek Roff says global warming may threaten endangered species

(July 11, 2003)

In a perspective article entitled “Evolutionary Danger for Rainforest Species” in the July 4, 2003, issue of the journal Science, UC Riverside’s Derek Roff explains new findings that show that a population of rainforest fruit flies had no genetic variation in an ecologically important trait.

In a perspective article entitled “Evolutionary Danger for Rainforest Species” in the July 4, 2003, issue of the journal Science, UC Riverside’s Derek Roff explains new findings that show that a population of rainforest fruit flies had no genetic variation in an ecologically important trait.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- (www.ucr.edu) -- In a perspective article entitled “Evolutionary Danger for Rainforest Species” in the July 4, 2003, issue of the journal Science, UC Riverside’s Derek Roff explains new findings that show that a population of rainforest fruit flies had no genetic variation in an ecologically important trait: ‘desiccation resistance’ or the protective strategy used by cells against drought stress in order to prevent water loss. In the perspective, Roff also discusses the implications of the study for the adaptation of species to global warming.

“The perspective concerns the lack of genetic variation to adjust to changes in climate such as might occur with global warming,” said Roff, who is professor of biology. “Given that California is likely to incur changes over the next few decades as a result of global warming, this result indicates that we should be concerned about the possibility that some presently endangered species may also lack the necessary genetic variation to survive the change.”

In the perspective article, Roff comments on the paper “Low Potential for Climatic Stress Adaptation in a Rainforest Drosophila Species” by A. A. Hoffmann et al., also appearing in the July 4 issue of Science.

Roff writes:
The authors have studied a single trait that apparently lacks genetic variation in the fruit fly Drosophila birchii, which inhabits patches of Australian coastal rainforest … The results reported by Hoffman et al. appear exceptional, but given that the trait involved is likely to be under selection generated by global warming, there is an obvious need to assess genetic variation for similar traits in other species, particularly those that are already endangered.


“The principal finding was that there was no genetic variation within the studied population to permit it to adapt to changing thermal conditions,” Roff said. “Given global warming, it is important to assess the genetic capability of organisms to respond to the changing conditions, particularly in respect to endangered species.”

Roff is an evolutionary population ecologist with wide-ranging interests in population and quantitative genetics, life-history, and the biology and ecology of dispersal and migration. In 2002, he was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his contributions to evolutionary biology in the area of life history evolution and quantitative genetics, especially with regard to advancing theory by empirical tests. In 2002, he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Canada. He came to UC Riverside in 2001.

The UC Riverside Department of Biology serves three main functions: undergraduate instruction, graduate education, and research in basic biology. The department conducts research and teaching in many areas of life science including cell biology, conservation biology, developmental biology, ecology, evolution, molecular biology, physiology, and population biology. The department is part of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, a multi-departmental unit dedicated to instruction and basic research in the physical and life sciences, and also to 'mission-oriented' applied research in the agricultural sciences. The Biology major is a popular undergraduate major on the UC Riverside campus, with approximately 1000 students currently enrolled. Biology also provides much of the undergraduate instruction for majors in other life science departments and other science majors.

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