Since the 1980s the role of genetics within the field of Conservation Biology has increased greatly inimportance. The emerging field of Conservation Genetics (ConGen) does significantly contribute to the preservation of nature. However, at the moment the ConGen Programme started, conservation genetics was a loose assemblage of different research fields, using different approaches and methodologies. To build a consistent framework, the different sub-disciplines that contribute to conservation genetics had to be integrated. The main scientific objective of the ESF Research Networking Programme ConGen, active from December 2004 until December 2009, was to promote the building of such a framework where experimental population genetics can bridge the gap between theoretical models and natural populations. To achieve this difficult task, the ConGen Programme intended to activate a multidisciplinary European network of scientists working on conservation genetics from different perspectives and at different levels. As such, the programme was aiming at providing a venue for researchers working on experimental, theoretical and applied aspects of conservation biology to meet and integrate their perspectives. In addition, ConGen was aiming at stimulating scientists to combine efforts at a European scale.
To activate such a research network, ConGen organised more than 10 workshops with multidisciplinary themes where scientists from different backgrounds could discuss and exchange ideas and views. At the same time ConGen promoted multidisciplinary collaborative projects through Short Visit Grants (34) and Exchange Grants (25). Many of these exchanges have lead to long-term collaboration. To stimulate dissemination of knowledge ConGen also organized two summer schools for PhD students and young Postdocs on the use and interpretation of molecular markers and genomics.
To promote consolidate and long-term collaborative research networks, which will persist after ConGen is terminated, Congen also funded the establishment of European Research Consortia that are thought to combine research efforts at a European scale and apply for funding from various granting agencies at the level of the EU. In addition, the activities of ConGen have particularly promoted young starting researchers to become acquainted with each other and with established researchers in the field of conservation at a European scale. We are confident that all this will lead to a long-lasting co-operative network on conservation genetics in Europe.
During its term ConGen has been quite visible. On the one hand, it is clear that the activities of ConGen have attracted far more potential participants than could be funded. On the other hand, to date more than 65 scientific publications have appeared that acknowledge a contribution from ConGen insome form. Up till now the activities have led to the publication of a special issue of the journal Conservation Genetics (Volume 11, issue 2, 2010) and a special issue of Climate Research that will appear in the second half of 2010.
In 2009 a final conference was held in Trondheim, Norway, from 23-26 May. In oral presentations and posters that were presented during the conference, the state-of-the-art of conservation genetics, and the achievements made by the ConGen Programme were documented. It was clear from this conference that ConGen has been quite successful. This is also clear from a meeting report written by Ouborg: “Over the five-year running period of the successful ESF-CONGEN Networking programme, much progress has been made in theoretical approaches, basic research on inbreeding depression and other genetic processes associated with habitat fragmentation and conservation issues, and with applying principles of conservation genetics in the conservation of many species.” (Biol. Lett. 6: 3-6, 2010).
All in all, there is no doubt that ConGen has greatly helped to advance the field of conservation genetics in Europe. This is shown by a quote from Richard Frankham (who as a key player in the field attended several ConGen workshops) when he writes
“Within Europe, there have been substantial advances in the quality of the discipline during the last 5 years that seem partially attributable to the ConGen program.” (Frankham, 2010, Conserv. Genet. 11:661-663).