Just how does L.A.’s 101 Freeway affect the city’s wild animal population? UCLA researchers have just published a study about this in Conservation Biology. The study, which focused on seven species chosen as representative of local wildlife, found a large amount of genetic diversity within groups separated by the freeway.
“To better comprehend how wildlife will respond to climate change, it is important to look at ecosystems as a whole, in addition to zeroing in on specific species,” says Tom Smith, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the Center for Tropical Research.
The researchers mapped the genes of the seven species, ranging from side-blotched lizards to grey foxes. The National Park Service assisted in collecting genetic material of the species through skin, blood and toe pad samples. Researchers extracted DNA from the samples and used a machine that can detect even small genetic variations in order to process the genetic information.
In addition to the genetic information found, the researchers cross-referenced the genetic findings with environmental variables to look for patterns. They examined aspects such as temperature, elevation and vegetation. The study also identifies areas with the largest number of species and most genetic diversity within individual species.
By focusing on a small, environmentally diverse area of the Santa Monica Mountains, you can discover 70 to 80 percent of the genetic variation in a species native to that area, Harrigan says.
Being aware of how animals respond to changes in temperature or elevation alerts scientists to how the species could react to climate change. If our planet warms two degrees Celsius by the end of this century, as many climate scientists predict, wildlife will have limited options, Harrigan says.
In response to climate change, many animals may move up the mountains to cooler territory but find that there’s nowhere to go at the top. This may result in some species becoming extinct while others may adapt to the new reality. A species’ ability to adapt varies and may rely somewhat on diet.