Global biodiversity loss is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. However, in research, policy, and public understanding, biodiversity is often treated in an overly simplistic manner. This approach often emphasises species diversity over all other diversity measures, and also focuses on patterns of diversity over the processes which generate and maintain biodiversity into the future. This workshop brought together 25 international and local Icelandic researchers to discuss the importance of an often-overlooked aspect of biodiversity – within-species diversity. Within-species diversity is important for evolutionary processes, as individual variation is the currency of evolution. In northern systems that are often lower in species diversity, within-species diversity likely plays an increased role in shaping ecosystem function and resilience.
Through a programme of presentations and in-depth discussion groups, workshop participants covered a range of topics. The first half of the workshop included topics such as how we think about biodiversity concepts, the importance of within-species diversity in different systems, and how we might identify and measure it. The second half of the programme focussed on conservation applications, and participants discussed how to introduce the concept of within-species diversity to the public and policymakers, and how to practically include within-species diversity in conservation management and policy.
There were a range of important outcomes from this workshop, with participants strongly advocating for researchers to be more involved in communicating and promoting biodiversity research. This can happen at different levels, from individuals editing the Wikipedia pages of their study species, to lobbying governments to improve policy. Participants with institutional support were also encouraged to lobby their organisations to invest in full-time science translation and communication posts, rather than expect researchers to also be experts at media and communication. Tangible outcomes included a commitment from participants and organisers to produce a co-authored manuscript discussing the core concepts developed during the workshop. Further, the participants also made new connections with colleagues in different disciplines and countries, and we are confident that this workshop will lead to fruitful collaborations in the future.
The participants and organisers are grateful to IASC for their funding, and are discussing organising a follow-up workshop in 12 months to further the important discussions started here.
- Within-species diversity is critical to evolutionary processes and ecosystem function, but is often underrepresented in conservation policy.
- We need to shift our focus away from patterns of diversity towards the processes which create and maintain biodiversity into the future.
- Scientists can do more to make research accessible to the public, but institutions also have a role to play in supporting full-time science communication staff.