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Wanted: Evolutionary Biologists

When it comes to the biodiversity crisis, evolutionary biologists have been sitting too long on the sidelines. So says Yale University plant evolutionary biologist Michael Donoghue, who unveiled a plan today by DIVERSITAS, the scientific board that provides scientific expertise for the Convention on Biological Diversity, to get these researchers more involved in biodiversity science.

The plan, named bioGENESIS, has been in the works since 2005 and provides concrete examples of how evolutionary approaches have contributed to a better understanding of biodiversity. Looking at a given species in the context of its close relatives, i.e., its phylogeny, can reveal factors influencing its decline, or in the case of invasive species, its success. This approach also helps clarify the role humans play in altering biodiversity and how evolution can help a species respond to changing conditions, for example, in the tropics. (Photo courtesy of the National Biological Information Infrastructure)

“Evolutionary biologists are interested, they just don’t know how to engage,” says Andrew Hendry of McGill University. “What’s now necessary,” he adds, “is getting the plan into the hands of people who will be influenced by it.” Today’s unveiling at a National Academies symposium in Washington D.C. was the first step. Next, Donoghue and his colleagues plan to introduce it other meetings and to present it in relevant scientific journals.