our everyday life

Examples of Genetic Diversity

by Rosemary Peters

The next time you are in a crowded room, take a look at people's hair color. You may see a large number of people with black or brown hair, quite a few blondes and a few redheads. This is a manifestation of genetic diversity within humans. Some species have high genetic diversity, while others are in danger of collapse due to having a small gene pool.

The Gene Pool And Species Survival

Genetic diversity describes the amount of variation in the gene pool for a specific species. Genetic diversity is important for the chances of survival for a particular species of plants and animals, such as a snapdragon or a polar bear. This is due to the fact that species with greater genetic diversity generally have more tools to adapt to changes within its environment. For example, should a species experience changes such as a warming environment, then the fittest members of the species will survive and pass on their "superior" genetic code to their offspring.

Cheetahs: Low Genetic Diversity

The cheetah is an example of a species lacking genetic diversity. According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, there used to be several Cheetah species tens of thousands of years ago, and it was a genetically diverse animal. However, as the climate across the globe changed, all but the one species of the Cheetah remaining on the Earth today became extinct. This species, called the jubatus, suffers from drastically reduced numbers and has had to resort to inbreeding (sexual reproducing with closely related family members) to survive. This inbreeding has greatly minimized the genetic diversity within the population, making it susceptible to becoming extinct.

Alpine Plants

The campanula thyrsoides is a European alpine whose genetic diversity is of great interest to botanists. It is a rare plant that has been isolated to specific locations in the European Alps. Locations of the plants are so isolated from each other that there is little to no chance for the various populations to mix their genetics. Despite this isolation, the European Alpine is a plant with high genetic diversity. Scientists attribute their large gene pool to the plant's long life and that several generations of the plant have overlapping timelines and can breed with each other.

Great Basin Shrub Steppe

The Great Basin is the northernmost desert in the United States, enclosed by the Colorado Plateau and central Rocky Mountains, the Columbia Plateau and the Cascade-Sierra Range. Though it is a desert, the Great Basin has a thriving cold-temperate vegetation. The cold-temperate vegetation, such as sagebrushes, saltbrushes and winterfat, has been able to survive in the desert landscape because they have high genetic diversity. The vegetation has genetically adapted to to its dry environment, and the various alleles of genes that have enabled the plants to do so have been passed on through thousands of generations of the plants' lives.

About the Author

Rosemary Peters holds a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering and a Master of Science in science communication. She has worked on editorial and design content across several publications, including "The Beacon" and "International Innovation." She has also spent time working in the Science radio unit at the BBC.

Photo Credits

  • Anup Shah/Digital Vision/Getty Images