Linking epigenetics and biological conservation: Towards a conservation epigenetics perspective

Abstract : 1. Biodiversity conservation is a global issue where the challenge is to integrate all levels of biodiversity to ensure the long-term evolutionary potential and resilience of biological systems. Genetic approaches have largely contributed to conservation biology by defining "conservation entities" accounting for their evolutionary history and adaptive potential, the so-called evolutionary significant units (ESUs). Yet, these approaches only loosely integrate the short-term ecological history of organisms. 2. Here, we argue that epigenetic variation, and more particularly DNA methylation, represents a molecular component of biodiversity that directly links the genome to the environment. As such, it provides the required information on the ecological background of organisms for an integrative field of conservation biology. 3. We synthesize knowledge about the importance of epigenetic mechanisms in (a) orchestrating fundamental development alternatives in organisms, (b) enabling individuals to respond in real-time to selection pressures and (c) improving ecosystem stability and functioning. 4. Using practical examples in conservation biology, we illustrate the relevance of DNA methylation (a) as biomarkers of past and present environmental stress events as well as biomarkers of physiological conditions of individuals; (b) for documenting the ecological structuring/clustering of wild populations and hence for better integrating ecology into ESUs; (c) for improving conservation transloca-tions; and (d) for studying landscape functional connectivity. 5. We conclude that an epigenetic conservation perspective will provide environmental managers the possibility to refine ESUs, to set conservation plans taking into account the capacity of organisms to rapidly cope with environmental changes, and hence to improve the conservation of wild populations. K E Y W O R D S conservation, DNA methylation, ecological timescales, epigenetic, evolutionary significant units
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Submitted on : Wednesday, November 6, 2019 - 11:07:29 AM
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Olivier Rey, Christophe Eizaguirre, Bernard Angers, Miguel Baltazar-Soares, Kostas Sagonas, et al.. Linking epigenetics and biological conservation: Towards a conservation epigenetics perspective. Functional Ecology, Wiley, 2019, 00, pp.1 - 14. ⟨10.1111/1365-2435.13429⟩. ⟨hal-02350934⟩

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