The Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) in Sharjah hosted its 3rd day of the Sharjah International Conservation Forum for Arabia’s Biodiversity workshops on the use of genetic data to resolve taxonomic considerations and an Introduction to animal biobanking. The event brought together a number of experts from across the region to discuss the latest advances in the field of genetics and its applications for conservation efforts.
The first workshop focused on taxonomic considerations, where experts discussed the use of genetic data to resolve taxonomy and hybridisation. This is a critical area of concern for conservation efforts, as the classification of species, subspecies and populations can impact the prioritisation and allocation of resources.
Dr Helen Senn, Head of the Conservation and science programmes at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, highlighted the importance of genetic data in resolving taxonomic considerations, stating that, “Genetic data can provide valuable insights into the evolutionary history of species and populations, and help to resolve taxonomic questions that may have important implications for conservation efforts. The use of genetic data can help us to make informed decisions about where to allocate our resources, whether that be financial or otherwise, and prioritise species, subspecies and populations for conservation efforts.”
In particular, the workshop discussed the example of the Nubian Ibex in Arabia, where genetic data is being used to resolve the taxonomy of this species and inform the associated national conservation action plan. Additionally, the experts discussed the challenges and limitations of using genetic data in resolving taxonomy, including the impact of biogeographic barriers such as islands, mountains, and narrow/shallow seas, as well as the difficulty in resolving subspecies with no geographic barriers to isolate populations.
The second workshop focused on animal biobanking and introduced attendees to this important area of conservation. Biobanking is the process of collecting and preserving biological samples, including DNA, tissue, and reproductive cells, for future use in conservation and research efforts. Biobanking is increasingly being recognised as a critical tool for wildlife conservation, and the workshop discussed the importance of biobanks in supporting assisted breeding efforts and supplementing gene pools.
“By using genetic data and biobanking, we can help to ensure that our conservation efforts are based on the best available information and that we are making informed decisions about the prioritisation of species, subspecies and populations for conservation efforts,” commented Her Excellency Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, Chairperson of the Environment and Protected Areas Authority in Sharjah (EPAA).
The workshop also highlighted the Global Biobank Initiatives, which aim to establish biobanks for human, plant and animal species, and the importance of biobanking in conservation efforts. The experts discussed the National Barcode of Life Programme and veterinary issues around taking samples for biobanking, as well as the applications of live cell cryopreservation, including the ability to extend the functional genetic lifespan of species and facilitate genetic exchange.
A growing number of success stories demonstrate the impact of biobanking in conservation efforts, including the black-footed ferret. In 1988, sperm was frozen from captive-bred ferrets, increasing genetic diversity, and contributing to the success of reintroduction efforts.