Where the Genes Flow

    The Challenge

    Map and compare population genetics of a species with landscape features, climate conditions, and human activities in a region to identify potential barriers or facilitators to gene migration and local adaptation.


    When people move from one location to another, we may choose to travel light and not carry any belongings, but we carry with us assets that are just as personal and significant – our genes.  The same is true for other species that migrate away from their native populations into new areas and new communities.  Their movement and subsequent incorporation into new populations leads to the transfer of genes, and thus, traits, into new populations.  

    This migration of genes, or “gene flow,” is influenced by a variety of factors, including the physiology, mobility, and behaviors of the individuals, and also by their surrounding landscapes and environments.  The interplay of these factors leads to unique patterns of gene flow and local adaptation for different species in the same environment and vice versa.  Understanding these patterns of flow is important not only to advance the knowledge of ecology and evolution, but also to guide the management of threatened and endangered species. 

    Your challenge is to overlay population genetics data pertaining to a species of your choice on a map of a region of your choice.  Compare the distribution of different genes, alleles, and/or traits with landscape features, climate conditions, and human activities in the region to identify potential barriers or facilitators of gene flow!

    This challenge addresses the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to engage all countries and all stakeholders in a collaborative partnership.  The SDGs aim to build a better future for all people by achieving sustainable development in three dimensions – economic, social, and environmental – in the spirit of strengthened global solidarity:

    • Goal 6.6: By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.
    • Goal 11.4: Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
    • Goal 14.2: By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans.
    • Goal 15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements.
    • Goal 15.4: By 2030, ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their capacity to provide benefits that are essential for sustainable development.
    • Goal 15.5:  Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.
    • Goal 15.9:  By 2020, integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, developmental processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts.


    • Consider selecting an endangered or threatened species in your region of choice to identify potential conservation actions and ideas!
    • How would you identify the most significant drivers of local adaptation in the region of your choice?
    • What conservation measures (if any) would you recommend based on your results?
    • Consider creative and interactive means to share your results and recommendations!

    NASA in no way endorses any particular entity listed on this page, nor can it attest to the accuracy of information provided on non-US Government sites.

    NASA Logo

    SpaceApps is a NASA incubator innovation program.