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Could wider use of gene reserves protect rare species? - University of York

The Great Yellow Bumblebee ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot
The Great Yellow Bumblebee ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

UK landowners and conservationists welcome wider-spread use of Gene Conservation Units (GCUs) to help protect some of the rarest plants and insects, research at the University of York has shown.

In particular the Great Yellow Bumblebee and the Mountain Ringlet Butterfly, which are at risk of further population decline, would benefit from the Units, currently only employed for forest trees.

Genetic diversity in these species is essential if they are to adapt to new, and often challenging, environmental conditions. Gene Conservation Units are areas of land managed to allow the recovery of species, and maintain evolutionary processes to enable them to adapt to environmental change.

For tree species, this means promoting natural regeneration, and for others, it means ensuring that the breeding population is large enough, and diverse enough, to be able to weather the changes ahead. Habitat management may achieve this, as well as population monitoring to ensure a large population is sustained.

High risk

PhD researcher Melissa Minter, from the Department of Biology at the University of York, said: “In investigating whether landowners would be interested in adopting a system of GCUs, we looked at the potential benefits these might bring to some species of insects and plants. We have shown that the genetic diversity of cold-adapted butterflies, such as the Mountain Ringlet, is at high risk of local extinction in a warming climate and so conservation measures are needed to secure the survival of threatened populations.”

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