More species than ever before are at risk of extinction due to anthropogenic habitat loss and climate change. But even species that are not threatened have seen reductions in their populations and geographic ranges, likely impacting their genetic diversity. Although preserving genetic diversity is key to maintaining adaptability of species, we lack predictive tools and global estimates of genetic diversity loss across ecosystems. By bridging theories of biodiversity and population genetics, we introduce a mathematical framework to understand the loss of naturally occurring DNA mutations within decreasing habitat within a species. Analysing genome-wide variation data of 10,095 geo-referenced individuals from 20 plant and animal species, we show that genome-wide diversity follows a power law with geographic area (the mutations-area relationship), which can predict genetic diversity loss in spatial computer simulations of local population extinctions. Given pre-21st century values of ecosystem transformations, we estimate that over 10% of genetic diversity may already be lost, surpassing the United Nations targets for genetic preservation. These estimated losses could rapidly accelerate with advancing climate change and habitat destruction, highlighting the need for forecasting tools that facilitate implementation of policies to protect genetic resources globally.
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