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Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 98:10 (May 8, 2001), pp. 5426–5432; doi: 10.1073ypnas.091093098 Copyright © 2001 The National Academy of Sciences USA. Used by permission.
This paper was presented at the National Academy of Sciences colloquium, “The Future of Evolution,” held March 16–20, 2000, at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, CA.


Humans affect biodiversity at the genetic, species, community, and ecosystem levels. This impact on genetic diversity is critical, because genetic diversity is the raw material of evolutionary change, including adaptation and speciation. Two forces affecting genetic variation are genetic drift (which decreases genetic variation within but increases genetic differentiation among local populations) and gene flow (which increases variation within but decreases differentiation among local populations). Humans activities often augment drift and diminish gene flow for many species, which reduces genetic variation in local populations and prevents the spread of adaptive complexes outside their population of origin, thereby disrupting adaptive processes both locally and globally within a species. These impacts are illustrated with collared lizards (Crotaphytus collaris) in the Missouri Ozarks. Forest fire suppression has reduced habitat and disrupted gene flow in this lizard, thereby altering the balance toward drift and away from gene flow. This balance can be restored by managed landscape burns. Some have argued that, although human-induced fragmentation disrupts adaptation, it will also ultimately produce new species through founder effects. However, population genetic theory and experiments predict that most fragmentation events caused by human activities will facilitate not speciation, but local extinction. Founder events have played an important role in the macroevolution of certain groups, but only when ecological opportunities are expanding rather than contracting. The general impact of human activities on genetic diversity disrupts or diminishes the capacity for adaptation, speciation, and macroevolutionary change. This impact will ultimately diminish biodiversity at all levels.

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