Abstract

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has underscored the critical role of adaptive genetic variation in accurately projecting the impact of climate change on species range loss. Orly Razgour and fellow researchers integrated genomics with ecological modeling to reveal that considering a species’ capacity to adapt could significantly reduce predicted range loss. By examining forest bats, the team’s approach promises to refine conservation strategies but also highlights potential increases in interspecific competition under changed climatic conditions.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820663116

Introduction

As the planet grapples with the escalating threats posed by climate change, understanding and forecasting species vulnerability is pivotal for biodiversity conservation. Local adaptations – genetic variations that improve survival and reproduction in specific environments – are essential in determining how species respond to environmental challenges. However, these adaptive genetic variations are often overlooked in species vulnerability assessments and predictive ecological models, potentially leading to inaccuracies in our understanding of how species will fare under future climate scenarios.

A novel study conducted by a team led by Orly Razgour at the University of Southampton, alongside colleagues from various institutions, has highlighted the necessity of integrating adaptive genetic variation into predictions for species range shifts due to climate change. Their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that accounting for genetic diversity within species can mitigate projected losses, providing a more nuanced picture of future biodiversity.

Methodology

The study focused on two cryptic forest bat species, using genomic data to identify climate-related genetic adaptations. The researchers employed this genomic data in ecological niche models to forecast the bats’ range changes in response to future climate scenarios. They examined the potential for “evolutionary rescue” – situations where genetic adaptation may allow populations to survive in changing climates.

One of the major strengths of the study is the consideration of landscape connectivity, which is critical for maintaining gene flow and enabling evolutionary responses. This comprehensive approach has the potential to revolutionize conservation practices by highlighting populations that are better poised to withstand environmental changes.

Results and Discussion

The results were twofold: First, considering climate-adaptive genetic variation significantly reduced projected species range loss. This is an encouraging finding, implying that the grim predictions for species survival under climate change might be overestimated when the potential for local adaptation is ignored.

Secondly, the study projected an increase in range overlap between the two bat species, indicating heightened interspecific competition – an aspect that could limit the future ranges of these species. Such competition dynamics are vital to understand, as they could counteract the benefits of adaptive genetic variation.

However, a note of caution remains; the possibility of evolutionary rescue is not assured for all populations. Factors such as the rate of climate change, habitat fragmentation, and a population’s inherent adaptive capacity will ultimately govern the possibilities for survival. As with any modeling approach, there are uncertainties and assumptions that could affect the predictions.

Implications for Conservation

The study’s findings have profound implications for conservation biology. Firstly, they suggest that conservation efforts should be targeted toward populations with greater adaptive capacity, which could serve as important refuges for species facing climate change. Secondly, maintaining landscape connectivity is paramount. It ensures the movement of genes across populations, bolstering their evolutionary potential.

The integration of genomic data into species distribution models is a step towards “genetic-informed conservation,” where management plans are tailored not only to species’ present-day needs but also to their future adaptive potential. This strategy will be invaluable as we strive to mitigate the biodiversity crisis exacerbated by climate change.

Keywords

1. Adaptive genetic variation
2. Climate change vulnerability
3. Conservation genomics
4. Species range loss projections
5. Evolutionary rescue potential

Conclusion

Razgour and colleagues have delivered a wake-up call to conservationists and policymakers – consider the adaptive potential of species when assessing their vulnerability to climate change. As we advance in our genomic prowess, it’s clear that such data must become a cornerstone in crafting conservation strategies. Striking a balance between immediate conservation action and facilitating the long-term adaptive capacity of species will be challenging, but it is a challenge we must rise to for the sake of global biodiversity.

References

1. Razgour, O., et al. (2019). Considering adaptive genetic variation in climate change vulnerability assessment reduces species range loss projections. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(21), 10418–10423. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820663116

2. Urban, M. C. (2015). Accelerating extinction risk from climate change. Science, 348, 571–573.

3. Wiens, J. J. (2016). Climate-related local extinctions are already widespread among plant and animal species. PLoS Biol, 14(12), e2001104.

4. Savolainen, O., Lascoux, M., & Merilä, J. (2013). Ecological genomics of local adaptation. Nature Reviews Genetics, 14, 807–820.

5. Bay, R. A., et al. (2018). Genomic signals of selection predict climate-driven population declines in a migratory bird. Science, 359, 83–86.

Further Reading

Pacifici, M., et al. (2015). Assessing species vulnerability to climate change. Nat Clim Chang, 5, 215–225.
Ruegg, K., et al. (2018). Ecological genomics predicts climate vulnerability in an endangered southwestern songbird. Ecological Letters, 21(7), 1085–1096.
Bell, G. (2017). Evolutionary rescue. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 48, 605–627.