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The age of the Anthropocene--the scientific name given to our current geologic age--is dominated by human impacts on our environment. A warming climate. Increased resistance of pathogens and pests. A swelling population. Coping with these modern global challenges requires application of what one might call a more-ancient principle: evolution.
That's the recommendation of a diverse group of researchers, in a paper published today in the online version of the journal Science. A majority of the nine authors on the paper have received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
"Evolution isn't just about the past anymore, it's about the present and the future," said Scott Carroll, an evolutionary ecologist at University of California-Davis and one of the paper's authors. Addressing societal challenges--food security, emerging diseases, biodiversity loss--in a sustainable way is "going to require evolutionary thinking."
The paper reviews current uses of evolutionary biology and recommends specific ways the field can contribute to the international sustainable development goals (SDGs), now in development by the United Nations.
Evolutionary biology has "tremendous potential" to solve many of the issues highlighted in the SDGs, said Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, another Science author from the University of Copenhagen's Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate. The field accounts for how pests may adapt rapidly to our interventions and how vulnerable species struggle to adapt to global change. The authors even chose this release date to coincide with the upcoming meeting of the UN General Assembly, which starts September 24.
Their recommendations include gene therapies to treat disease, choosing drought-and-flood-resistant crop varieties and altering conservation strategies to protect land with high levels of genetic diversity.