The rapid growth in genomic techniques provides the potential to transform how we protect, manage, and conserve marine life.
STUDY OF INTEREST
Marine Life conservation through genomics
Genetic techniques have been employed in marine conservation for decades and the availability of genomic data is rapidly expanding, widespread application still lags behind other data types.
No part of our oceans is left untouched by humans, with many marine species and habitats showing severe declines in health and abundance as a consequence of anthropogenic disturbances. Important ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and kelp forests are declining from the direct and indirect effects of climate-driven warming, more severe and frequent extreme events, and disease outbreaks. Many marine animals have experienced severe population bottlenecks from overharvesting. This global trend of biodiversity and ecosystem declines. has prompted a range of conservation measures to combat loss and protect the valuable goods and services provided by species and ecosystems. Progress towards removing local stressors and reversing extant species and habitat loss is accelerating with 2021 heralding the UN decade of ocean science. Measures to protect against rapid climate change are perhaps most challenging because of the global nature of this stressor and the need for novel interventions that are only just being developed. Conservation efforts are most successful when they are underpinned by scientific data that inform, for example, which species, populations, or places are most vulnerable and require protection. Scientific data are also crucial in measuring success of conservation efforts and in designing management interventions to reverse degradation and loss. Data types traditionally used to inform conservation planning and decision-making are diverse and include: species and habitat distribution and abundance maps; degree of disturbance; threats and risks; characteristics of the physical and chemical environment such as temperature, salinity, substratum type, and the movement of ocean currents; and human usage of the marine environment. The application of genomic data in marine conservation is also gaining traction, but still lags behind these other data types. Yet, genomic approaches hold huge promise in advancing marine conservation and restoration; they provide certain insights that cannot be garnered from any other data source and often give more power to address important and new questions. Moreover, conserving and managing marine systems under climate change will require novel genomic interventions to ensure species and ecosystem persistence, making this data source critical to future conservation efforts. The term “genetics” refers to the study of a subset of genes or other parts of the genome, while “genomics” is defined as genome-wide studies or the use of reference genomes and high-throughput genomic techniques in this article. Most characteristics of a living being are encoded in its genome, and thus, genomic information lies at the basis of an organism’s appearance, behavior, and physiology. In the context of conservation and restoration, genetic and genomic approaches can be used to guide and enhance traditional conservation actions as well as to design more recent assisted evolution approaches. Importantly, genomic approaches are essential components of most biotechnological manipulations aimed at the development of genome-edited and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or synthetic life forms that benefit or relieve pressures on marine life. Researchers review conservation insights and interventions that rely on or can be greatly enhanced by genetics and genomics approaches and discuss how these approaches can progress marine conservation and restoration efforts. And then explore some stand-out e xamples of where genetic and genomic data have been operationalized and make recommendations on how to continue to expand the use of genomics to advance marine conservation and restoration.