Moises Exposito-Alonso advocates for preserving genetic diversity at COP15

Cross-posted from Press Release:

Palo Alto, CA—Evolutionary geneticist and ecologist Moises Exposito-Alonso is in Montreal representing Carnegie at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, COP15. A session this Saturday organized by the Group on Earth Observations’ Biodiversity Observation Network, G-BIKE, and the Coalition for Conservation Genetics will discuss genetic diversity targets and projections, including a recent prediction that Exposito-Alonso published in Science

Published in September, Exposito-Alonso and colleagues created a predictive framework, which they used to illustrate that climate change and habitat destruction could have already caused the loss of more than one-tenth of the world’s terrestrial genetic diversity. These findings indicate that it may already be too late to meet the United Nations’ proposed target, preliminarily announced last year, of protecting 90 percent of genetic diversity for every species by 2030. This target is a major topic of discussion at the COP15 meeting.

“There is a great deal of enthusiasm going into the convention this week,” Exposito-Alonso who will advocate for additional protections to preserve genetic diversity.  “However, there are concerns that the targets are not ambitious enough and if an agreement is not ratified, we could lose the opportunity for maximum effectiveness for another decade.” 

He adds that although evaluating genetic targets may seem to many like an insurmountable challenge due to a lack of genomic data for many species, his team’s work demonstrates that there are actually ways to indirectly assess these goals at scale. This approach would also allow ownership of genetic resources to be retained nationally, an issue of concern for some parties.  

In his September Science paper, Exposito-Alonso and his group analyzed genomic data for more than 10,000 individual organisms across 20 different species. He says the mathematical tool that his team developed could be calibrated in data-rich species and then expanded to make approximate conservation genetics projections for additional species, even if we don’t know their genomes.

Until recently, genetic diversity had been overlooked when setting goals for preserving biodiversity, but without a diverse pool of natural genetic mutations on which to draw, species will be limited in their ability to survive alterations to their geographic range.

In popular culture, mutations convey super powers that defy the laws of physics. But in reality, mutations represent small, random natural variations in the genetic code that could positively or negatively affect an individual organism’s ability to survive and reproduce, passing down the positive traits down to future generations.

“When you take away or fundamentally alter swaths of a species’ habitat, you restrict the genetic richness available to help those plants and animals adapt to shifting conditions,” explains Exposito-Alonso, who holds one of Carnegie’s prestigious Staff Associate positions—which recognizes early career excellence—and is also an Assistant Professor, by courtesy, at Stanford University.

Exposito-Alonso is looking forward to connecting with other participants who are working on genetic diversity  from an applied perspective, including policy makers, conservationists, land managers, and others.  His research is an excellent illustration of how addressing fundamental questions in science can inform planning and implementation of important global  issues like the ongoing biodiversity crisis. 

Moi's resources

Moi's Paperpile library with documents from COP15 and papers addressing genetic diversity targets or proposing indicators

(some info and links below as I learn more about this)

Background on the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD)

The Convention on Biological Diversity is a international treaty adopted by the United Nations in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The convention aims to promote the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

At the Earth Summit, the parties to the convention adopted a set of goals known as the "Rio Declaration on Environment and Development" which included the "Principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity" and a "Programme of Action for Sustainable Development."

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is a supplementary agreement to the CBD that was adopted in 2000. It aims to ensure the safe handling, transport, and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) that may have adverse effects on biodiversity, especially in relation to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health.

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization is another supplementary agreement to the CBD that was adopted in 2010. It provides a framework for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources, in a manner that recognizes the rights of the providers of such resources, including indigenous and local communities.

The Aichi Targets are a set of goals agreed upon by the parties to the convention in 2010 at the Conference of the Parties in Nagoya, Japan. These targets aim to address the loss of biodiversity and the decline of ecosystem services by the year 2020. The targets cover a wide range of issues, including the conservation of threatened species, the sustainable use of natural resources, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

Now (Dec 2022) in COP15 at Montreal parties are discussing a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

So far this have been the accomplishments of the Aichi targets. There is a tool by CBD on how well countries have done:

Countries will build on this for the post-2020 GBF

Here is the annotated agenda for the Montreal COP15 convention in 2022

My copy of the agenda has a spreadsheet where they are tracking which countries ratify which targets:

Work from the MOILAB relevant to genetic diversity targets


Genetic diversity loss in the Anthropocene
Exposito-Alonso, M., Booker, T. A., Czech, L., Gillespie, L., Hateley, S., Kyriazis, C. C., Lang, P. Leventhal, L. Nogues-Bravo, D., Pagowski, V. Ruffley, M., Spence, J. P., Toro Arana, S., Weiss, C. and Zess, Erin.
Science (2022) [pdf]

Understanding local plant extinctions before it’s too late: bridging evolutionary genomics with global ecology.
Exposito-Alonso, M.
New Phytologist, 2023), [pdf]

(in preparation or preprints)

Power and limitations of the mutations-area relationship to assess within-species genetic diversity targets for post-2020 Sustainable Development Goals
Exposito-Alonso et al.
EcoEvoRxiv (2022) 

Infographic design courtesy of Mark Belan |