Genomic analysis of any species is finally possible both scientifically and financially, allowing us to quantify the distribution of genetic variation that is critical for adaptation and species resilience as climate change inevitably occurs across the state. Current species protection and management has not recognized that some populations harbor more genomic variation, and therefore are more resilient, than others; a key goal is to evaluate species for genomic variation, ask how well our protected lands manage for genetic resilience, and determine regions that should be optimal targets for future protection and acquisition. By working across a diverse set of species and rapidly acquiring data on tens of thousands of genes in an organized, consistent framework, we can provide regulatory and agency staff with the data needed to best manage declining, sensitive and exploited species at the statewide level, rather than the piecemeal approach that is so often the case.

Our initiative brings together conservation genomicists, resource and land policy professionals, and regulatory experts to optimally use the power of genomics in the conservation of a large suite of California threatened and exploited species. Among many other applications, genomics data are critical for assessing energy, transportation, and regional project impacts on species of concern, identifying regions where wildlife poaching occurs, determining best practices for human-assisted migration on fragmented landscapes, and making the best possible land acquisition choices that provide resilience to climate change. Two immediate goals are to identify a list of 100+ species that would most benefit from range-wide genomic analysis and to establish a consistent set of genomic data collection tools and downstream analyses that produce compatible, comparable results across species and landscapes.

Our recent workshop in Sacramento showcased some of the teams and ongoing research occurring across the state, and the agencies that can both contribute to and benefit from this research agenda. With relatively modest funding, we can launch the California Conservation Genomics Initiative while there is still time to act.