What is Genetic Diversity?
Genetic diversity is the total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of a species.
The huge variety of different gene sets also define an individual or a whole populations ability to tolerate stress from any given environmental factor. It also serves as a way for populations to adapt to changing environments.
The importance of genetic diversity is two fold. Firstly, increased genetic diversity is directly attributed to the adaptive ability of a species. Secondly, the fitness of a population is closely related to its heterozygosity, which is a common measure of genetic diversity.
Little to no genetic diversity makes crops extremely susceptible to widespread disease. Bacteria morph and change constantly and when a disease causing bacterium changes to attack a specific genetic variation, it can easily wipe out vast quantities of the species.
Cheetahs are a threatened species. Low genetic diversity and resulting poor sperm quality has made breeding and survivorship difficult for cheetahs. However, recently it has been discovered that female cheetahs can mate with more than one male per litter of cubs. They undergo induced ovulation, meaning that a new egg is produced every time a female mates. By mating with multiple mates, the mother increases the genetic diversity within a single
litter of cubs.
The loss of genetic diversity is difficult to see or measure. But the loss of genetic diversity within a species can result in the loss of useful and desirable traits e.g. resistance to parasites. Reduced genetic variation may also eliminate options to use untapped resources for food production, industry and medicines.
Genetic diversity and biodiversity are dependent upon each other such that diversity within a species is necessary to maintain diversity among species and vice-versa. It is a delicate balance as changes in genetic diversity such as loss of species,leads to a loss of biological diversity.