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Duration: 2004 - 2014

Genetic diversity is an important measure for biodiversity in alpine plants

Intraspecific, genetic diversity is rarely used as a measure for biodiversity, although it may reflect the adaptive potential of species in changing environments. The international project IntraBioDiv examined whether intraspecific diversity coincides with other measures of biodiversity. Furthermore, it evaluated if protection measures for alpine plants may be improved if intraspecific diversity were considered.

Alpine plant species that were examined in the project IntraBioDiv (Fotos: Conny Thiel-Egenter, Felix Gugerli)

Species richness is the most widely used measure for biodiversity assessment. However, it is intraspecific diversity (genetic polymorphism) that represents the evolutionary and adaptive potential of each species in changing environments. To evaluate how the different measures of biodiversity may serve as surrogates for each other, the IntraBioDiv consortium studied possible correlations between intraspecific diversity and species richness or habitat diversity.
The EC-supported project combined the efforts of 17 institutions from 10 European countries, studying the entire ranges of the Alps and the Carpathians. The project was initiated and coordinated by Pierre Taberlet (University of Grenoble).

Our objectives were:

  • to find and explain possible relationships among inter- and intraspecific plant diversity and habitat variation
  • to evaluate the existing network of protected areas for its coverage of biodiversity, including genetic diversity.

We asked the following specific questions, using the Alps and the Carpathians as model systems:

  • Is there statistical congruence between intra-/interspecific biodiversity?
  • Do areas of high endemism, often coinciding with glacial refugia, harbour a great degree of intraspecific diversity, and what is the relationship between rare gene variants and species?
  • Is habitat variation, characterised by environmental parameters, a good surrogate for intra- and interspecific diversity?
Keywords intraspecific diversity, species richness, habitat diversity, alpine plants, Alps, Carpathians, genetic diversity