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Ecological genetics is the study of genetics in natural populations. Traits in a population can be observed and quantified to represent a species adapting to a changing environment.
This contrasts with classical genetics, which works mostly on crosses between laboratory strains, and DNA sequence analysis, which studies genes at the molecular level.
Research in this field is on traits of ecological significance—that is, traits related to fitness, which affect an organism's survival and reproduction. Examples might be: flowering time, drought tolerance, polymorphism, mimicry, and avoidance of attacks by predators.
Ecological genetics is an especially useful tool when studying endangered species. Meta-barcoding and eDNA are used to examine the biodiversity of species in an ecosystem.
Research usually involves a mixture of field and laboratory studies. Samples of natural populations may be taken back to the laboratory for their genetic variation to be analyzed. Changes in the populations at different times and places will be noted, and the pattern of mortality in these populations will be studied. Research is often done on insects and other organisms such as microbial communities, that have short generation times.
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