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Ecosystem Functions

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Genetic Resources

The self maintaining diversity of organisms developed over evolutionary time (capable of continuing to change). Genetic resources are measurable at species, molecular and sub molecular levels.



Provisioning Functions


How do genetic resources contribute to ecosystem service provision?

The diversity in genes is evident in the different structure and colours of these fungi.

The diversity of genetic resources is a component of biodiversity as identified under the international Convention on Biological Diversity (see Biodiversity). Genetic resources are an information store of evolutionary history - information stored in DNA is passed from one generation to the next (i.e. inherited).

The diversity of genetic resources increases from the cellular level to a maximum at the level of the biosphere. Individual organisms (single celled and multi-cellular) have a full complement of genes known as a genome. The genetic variability between genomes of the individual organisms that form populations of a given species, provide the diversity of genetic resources for that species. The genetic variability within the population of each species in a biological community provides the genetic resources for an ecosystem. All of the genetic diversity contained in all the ecosystems on the planet is the total genetic resources for the biosphere.

Table 1 below presents the relative magnitude genetic resources contribute to ecosystem service provision (relative to other ecosystem functions) in SEQ. Genetic resources are an underlying component for all structural and functional levels of biological organisation. Genetic resources contribute to the capacity of organisms to adapt to changed environmental conditions (e.g. climate, fire). The plants, animals and microorganisms found in Queensland make a vast range of substances within their cells which may, for example, provide resistance to disease, produce venoms for defence or capturing prey, or improve an organism’s reproductive ability in relation to a changing environment.

Many plant species (including agricultural crops) depend on specific or a variety of birds, mammals and/or insects to pollinate them. Sexual reproduction not only maintains beneficial genetic combinations but also provides new combinations that may better adapt an organism to its environment.  Maintaining genetic resources in humans, other animals and plants helps regulate pests and disease. Genetic diversity may affect the capacity of the immune system to adapt to resist disease and pests, or facilitate recovery from their ill effects.

The diversity of species provides a store of diverse information that increases the likelihood of organisms surviving and reproducing and thus providing a sustainable supply of food, materials for clothing and shelter, medicines etc.  Many genetic resources are already recognised as of great benefit to commercial industries (such as farming, medical and textile), as many substances can be replicated, reproduced synthetically or modified to produce more robust species (e.g. genetic modification) or used directly and farmed commercially (e.g. materials for the textile industry).  Yet many benefits are still to be discovered.

The diversity of organisms in the soil community is necessary to create and maintain productive soils which in turn are necessary for the production of food for humans and other organisms. In general, the diversity of life depends on the diversity of genetic resources, and the diversity of life provides humans a sense of wonder, appreciation, spiritual connection with nature etc. The diversity of genetic resources is directly related to the diversity of species (bacteria, fungi, flora and fauna), habitats and ecosystems in a region (such as SEQ) and across the world. An expression of the diversity of genetic resources is the biological diversity that contributes to cultural services (e.g. iconic species, knowledge systems, sense of place, and recreational opportunities).



What is the temporal and geographic scale genetic resources operate at and services are delivered?

The geographical and temporal scales over which this function operates depends on the taxa under consideration. For example, bacteria can inhabit and function over small spatial and temporal scales such as nanometres and minutes. Mammals, however, can inhabit and function on a geographical scale of square kilometres and over years, whereas trees over tens of square metres and centuries. Although genetic resources arise at the molecular level, the benefits derived from genetic resources arise at cellular, multi-cellular organism (species), population and ecosystem levels right up to the biosphere. The flow of benefits derived from genetic resources is therefore best described as omnidirectional.

The map to the right shows areas where the function genetic resources is expected to occur across SEQ. Data sets supporting the map can be found in the Quick Index. By clicking on the link below the map it will provide a more detailed view.


How do we know if we are degrading, maintaining or improving genetic resources in SEQ?


Maintaining ecosystem diversity (and therefore habitat diversity) is vital to maintaining the diversity of genetic resources in SEQ.

The rainforests of SEQ are one of the most genetically diverse ecosystems in the world. Each habitat should be of sufficient area to maintain viable populations of the species that live in them.

Links to other publications and websites

Biological Resources Legislation
Biosecurity Act 2004
Aust. Govt. - Bioethics Portal

Threats to genetic resources are largely those from human activities such as land clearing leading to habitat loss, fragmentation of habitat, pollution of soil and water from agricultural and industrial land uses, as well accelerated climate change. Disturbances such as these can accelerate the extinction rate of species, degrade ecosystems and thus the services that they provide. Disturbances also make ecosystems more vulnerable to invasive species. Anything that decreases biodiversity also decreases the diversity of genetic resources.

Decision-makers and managers need to appreciate the role of maintaining biodiversity to maintain and promote genetic diversity and the viability of nature including the ecosystems upon which our survival and the health of our economy depends. Biodiversity affects redundancy of ecological function in an ecosystem as well as being related to genetic diversity and thus the capacity for species and ecosystems to adapt to change where required (e.g. climate change, disturbance). Genetic resources not only affect how it adapts to environmental change, but also the effectiveness of the change on improving Darwinian Fitness (e.g. the capacity of genes to survive and reproduce - genes and combinations of genes with higher fitness become more common in populations).

In SEQ, there are no current systems in place to monitor changes specifically in genetic resources. Appropriate indicators of change that could be applied to monitor changes in genetic resources include measuring ecosystem diversity, ecosystem health, diversity of habitats, and species diversity. Monitoring these levels of biological organisation provides an index of the diversity of genetic resources. However, molecular techniques need to be used to measure genetic diversity directly.


How do we manage this ecosystem function in SEQ?

The aim of management of genetic resources should be to maintain and preferably increase them. To achieve this aim, it is necessary to retain the variety of habitats in the region and each habitat should be of sufficient area to maintain viable populations of the species that live in them. Where a habitat patch is not large enough to maintain viable populations, then it should be connected via corridors to the same habitat so that organisms can disperse via those corridors and maintain viable populations. It is preferable to retain ecosystem types because the habitat of all species that live in the ecosystem can be protected. Where this is not feasible, then protecting iconic species or flagship species (e.g. koala and their habitat) may automatically protect many other species that share that habitat. As well as protecting the iconic species, it is necessary to protect ecological functions of the soil community so that bacteria, fungi, nematodes and other soil flora and fauna can continue to provide the appropriate conditions for the good health of the vegetation and associated fauna. 

In SEQ, there are no current management plans in place to monitor changes specifically in genetic resources. At the species level however, the Biodiversity Planning Assessment developed by the Department or Environment and Heritage Protection does monitor the status of rare, endangered and threatened species. As well, the Regional Ecosystem database also developed by the Department or Environment and Heritage Protection contains data on the status of terrestrial ecosystems in SEQ. Researchers at institutions at universities, the Queensland Herbarium, Queensland Museum and CSIRO  investigate numerous species and whole biological communities. As a result of their research, we have a better understanding of the threats and their implications for biodiversity.  However, much more needs to be done to reveal the potential of nature to improve the well-being of humans.

There appear to be no statutes at any level of government specifically aimed at protecting genetic resources. However there is legislation that protects genetic resources indirectly by protecting biodiversity or specific species. For example, the Commonwealth's Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999;  Queensland's Nature Conservation Act 1992, The Environmental Protection Act 1994, The Fisheries Act 1994, The Vegetation Management Act 1999, Biodiversity Act 2004; and statutes that deal with local planning issues such as Sustainable Planning Act 2009, and SEQ Regional Plan 2009-2031.