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Climate change reduces genetic diversity

Feb. 20, 2012 at 6:38 PM   |   Comments

BERKELEY, Calif., Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Global warming has forced alpine chipmunks in California to higher ground, prompting a startling decline in the species' genetic diversity, researchers say.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, say their study of chipmunks in Yosemite National Parks is one of the first to measure the impact on the genetic diversity of a species whose geographic range changes because of climate change.

The decline in the chipmunk's genetic diversity occurred in the relatively short span of 90 years, demonstrating the rapid threat changing climate can represent for a species, a UC Berkeley release said Sunday.

Such declines can make species more vulnerable to the effects of inbreeding, disease and other problems that threaten species survival, the researchers said.

"Climate change is implicated as the cause of geographic shifts observed among birds, small mammals and plants, but this new work shows that, particularly for mountain species like the alpine chipmunk, such shifts can result in increasingly fragmented and genetically impoverished populations," study lead author Emily Rubidge said. "Under continued warming, the alpine chipmunk could be on the trajectory towards becoming threatened or even extinct."

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