Preservation of genetic diversity is being tackled basically under two different approaches.
On one hand, governments have set aside portions of land to build a network of protected areas representing the diversity of natural habitats or as samples of ecosystems present in their countries. These may be national parks, nature sites, etc.
On the other hand, some declining species o special “official” interest have deserve dthe setting up of specific reserves which are managed to avoid their extinction. These reserves have also other natural values which are protected at the same time, but the objective of such areas is mainly to safeguard the target species.
Both approaches, the habitat/ecosystem oriented one or the species oriented, have achieved much in conservation and preservation of genetic diversity of the biosphere, but there are perhaps additional ways of complementing this very important task.
There are many outstanding areas distributed throughout the Earth where one can find a high and singular genetic diversity. This concentration of species is due to paleo-biogeographical reason s or special environmental circumstances that have favored evolution. Scientific literature refers to them as “refugia”, “genetic centers”, etc., or they may be simply oceanic islands, kipukas, or portions of land not affected by devastating natural phenomena (desertification, sinking of lands, etc.). These areas show a higher concentration o gene-pools in relation to their surrounding territory or they are qualitatively different, i.e., unique species that area all endemics in relation to defined regions.
My proposal is to draw a World Map showing areas of high biogenetic value. Scale and details are open to discussion and one may also choose different methods of how to proposed. A simple and feasible way would be to analyze density of plant endemism (no. of endemics /5 or 10 km2). Endemicity should be related to biogeographical unites rather than to political ones, but that point will also be discussed. The selection of plants as the “indicator or guiding” group is justified by the average rather good knowledge and survey coverage existing in most countries. One can assume that phenomena that affect the vegetable world and are responsible for the concentration or uniqueness for the flora should have affected also other groups and therefore, a more or less parallel situation can be expected, particularly in invertebrates.
Such a map would help to focus conservation efforts under scientific criteria, especially the selection of protected areas and the overall land use planning.
Such a map would call the attention of local administrators or regional and national governments to an international responsibility they may have overlooked. Frequently the uniqueness of gene-pools or concentrations of species is not bound to especially spectacular natural features. The areas concerned may even not look natural and be dominated by mankind. No one would consider them as candidates for a protected area such as a park or a reserve, but to safeguard their genetic diversity special measures should be taken in planning and natural resource management.
Text presented at the 3rd International Conference on Environmental Future
(Edinburgh 25-26 Sept. 1987)