Polar regions play critical roles in the function of the Earth’s climate system, many of which are underpinned by their endemic biota. Whilst being home to some of the world’s best-known charismatic megafauna such as polar bears, whales, penguins, seals and albatrosses, polar regions also harbour some of the most poorly explored and least understood biodiversity on the planet (https://www.ipcc.ch/reports, accessed on 9 June 2023). Moreover, these regions are amongst those areas of our planet experiencing the most rapid rates of warming [1,2], resulting in severe threats to their unique ecosystems . With regional warming, the organisms living in these frozen ecosystems will have to adapt if they are to survive, yet we currently have a very limited understanding of polar biodiversity, or indeed of the future resilience of polar organisms in our changing world. To generate a priori predictions of biodiversity change in these regions, it is imperative to understand the true extent of polar biodiversity, including how organisms interact (for example, in food webs), the biological mechanisms by which they have adapted to polar environments, their levels of phenotypic plasticity, and how these attributes may impact their abilities to respond to change. Critical to this understanding are “genomics” approaches that exploit the high-throughput sequencing of genetic material. With the costs of sequencing DNA and RNA having decreased dramatically over recent years, our abilities to probe the genetic code of polar organisms have expanded immeasurably, such that we are now able to answer ecological and evolutionary questions that were intractable even a few years ago, as exemplified by the contributions in this Special Issue on polar genomics.
Authors: Hoffman, J.I. ORCID record for J.I. Hoffman, Heesch, S., Clark, M.S. ORCID record for M.S. Clark