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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Methodological framework for projecting the potential loss of intraspecific genetic diversity due to global climate change

Markus Pfenninger1*, Miklós Bálint12 and Steffen U Pauls1

Author Affiliations

1 Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) by Senckenberg Research Institut & Goethe University, Senckenberganlage 25, D-60325, Frankfurt/Main, Germany

2 Molecular Biology Center, Babeş-Bolyai University, Str. Treboniu Laurian 42, 400271, Cluj, Romania

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:224  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-224

Published: 24 November 2012



While research on the impact of global climate change (GCC) on ecosystems and species is flourishing, a fundamental component of biodiversity – molecular variation – has not yet received its due attention in such studies. Here we present a methodological framework for projecting the loss of intraspecific genetic diversity due to GCC.


The framework consists of multiple steps that combines 1) hierarchical genetic clustering methods to define comparable units of inference, 2) species accumulation curves (SAC) to infer sampling completeness, and 3) species distribution modelling (SDM) to project the genetic diversity loss under GCC. We suggest procedures for existing data sets as well as specifically designed studies. We illustrate the approach with two worked examples from a land snail (Trochulus villosus) and a caddisfly (Smicridea (S.) mucronata).


Sampling completeness was diagnosed on the third coarsest haplotype clade level for T. villosus and the second coarsest for S. mucronata. For both species, a substantial species range loss was projected under the chosen climate scenario. However, despite substantial differences in data set quality concerning spatial sampling and sampling depth, no loss of haplotype clades due to GCC was predicted for either species.


The suggested approach presents a feasible method to tap the rich resources of existing phylogeographic data sets and guide the design and analysis of studies explicitly designed to estimate the impact of GCC on a currently still neglected level of biodiversity.