Variety is not only the spice of life, it’s the key to survival for plants and animals facing climate change.

Giersch: “The more genetically diverse the population is, the greater the chance that a species will be able to survive and adapt to changing conditions.”

That’s Joe Giersch, an aquatic entomologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He studies the glacier stonefly and the meltwater stonefly, two tiny aquatic insects that are under intense pressure from global warming.

Both live in streams in Glacier National Park and need very cold water to survive. But as the waters warm, the insects are forced to move upstream towards the receding glaciers and snowfields that provide cold meltwater. Soon, they will have nowhere to go.

Giersch: “As they go up in elevation, then these populations become more and more isolated from the other populations of the same species.”

As a result, genetic diversity decreases.

Giersch: “And they will have a harder time adapting to warmer temperatures and continued climate change.”

Their plight is not unique. Many species are becoming more isolated and less diverse as the climate warms. And that increases the risk of extinction.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

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