The genetic diversity of animals and plants is essential for their adaptation to climate change

Genetic diversity is crucial if species are to adapt to climate change. An international study including the University of Helsinki researchers shows that current efforts to monitor genetic diversity in Europe are incomplete and insufficient.

The study proposes a novel approach for identifying and pinpointing important geographical areas on which to focus.

Every living thing on our planet is distinguished from its fellow creatures by small differences in its hereditary material. So, when the environment changes and becomes unfavorable to populations of species, such as plants and animals, this genetic variability can enable them to adapt to the new conditions, rather than becoming extinct or having to migrate to other habitats.

In simple terms, gene diversity is one of the keys to species survival. In 2022, the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) placed increased emphasis on the need to protect the genetic diversity found in wild species, a fundamental component of biological diversity and one that has been generally neglected previously.

“This is particularly the case in Finland, where relatively few species have genetic diversity monitoring programmes, an exception being, for example, wolves,” says Professor Craig Primmer from the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences and the Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki.

Global warming is already putting a great deal of pressure on many species in Europe, particularly those having populations at the climatic limits of their range. The ability of species to resist greater heat or drought, as well as new species colonising their environment, therefore determines their survival. It is in these borderline situations that it is most urgent to measure genetic diversity, in order to assess the ability of the species in question to persist.

Efforts to monitor genetic diversity in Europe are incomplete and need to be supplemented

An international study in which the University of Helsinki was a participant and recently published in Nature Ecology & Evolution has examined the monitoring of genetic diversity in Europe. Professor Primmer, from the University of Helsinki, coordinated the collection of information about genetic monitoring programmes that are ongoing in Finland. He has also been involved in genetic monitoring of Finnish salmonid fish populations.

By analysing all genetic monitoring programs in Europe, the study showed the geographic areas in which greater monitoring efforts are needed. “Unfortunately, Finland was identified as a country having fewer genetic diversity monitoring programmes than expected compared to other European countries, given its size and GDP," Primmer says.

"Without better European monitoring of genetic diversity, we risk losing important genetic variants," says Peter Pearman, lead author of the study.

Improved monitoring would make it possible to detect areas favorable to these variants, and to protect them in order to maintain the genetic diversity that is essential to the long-term survival of species. Some of these threatened species also provide invaluable services to humans, such as crop pollination, pest control, water purification and climate regulation.


Pearman, P.B., Broennimann, O., Aavik, T. et al. Monitoring of species’ genetic diversity in Europe varies greatly and overlooks potential climate change impacts. Nat Ecol Evol (2024).


The study incorporated the efforts of 52 scientists who represent 60 universities and research institutes from 31 countries. The results suggest that European genetic diversity monitoring programs should be adapted systematically to span full environmental gradients, and to include all sensitive and high-biodiversity regions. In view of recent agreements to halt the decline in biodiversity, to which Finland is a signatory country, the study also points out that better monitoring of species in general, and their genetic diversity in particular, is urgently needed at an international level. This will enable better land-use planning, and better support for ecosystem conservation and restoration actions, which help to ensure the persistence of species and the services they provide.

Better monitoring of species and their genetic diversity
  • The genetic diversity of animals and plants is essential for their adaptation to climate change.
  • Current monitoring of this diversity is inadequate and could lead to the loss of important genetic variants.
  • A study including the University of Helsinki provides information on where to monitor genetic diversity in Europe.
  • It confirms that better monitoring of species and their genetic diversity is urgently needed internationally.