Predicting the impacts of climate change on animal distributions: the importance of local adaptation and species' traits

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The geographic range limits of many species are strongly affected by climate and are expected to change under global warming. For species that are able to track changing climate over broad geographic areas, we expect to see shifts in species distributions toward the poles and away from the equator. A number of ecological and evolutionary factors, however, could restrict this shifting or redistribution under climate change. These factors include restricted habitat availability, restricted capacity for or barriers to movement, or reduced abundance of colonists due the perturbation effect of climate change. This research project examined the last of these constraints ... continued below

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Hellmann, J. J. & LOBO, N. F. December 20, 2011.

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The geographic range limits of many species are strongly affected by climate and are expected to change under global warming. For species that are able to track changing climate over broad geographic areas, we expect to see shifts in species distributions toward the poles and away from the equator. A number of ecological and evolutionary factors, however, could restrict this shifting or redistribution under climate change. These factors include restricted habitat availability, restricted capacity for or barriers to movement, or reduced abundance of colonists due the perturbation effect of climate change. This research project examined the last of these constraints - that climate change could perturb local conditions to which populations are adapted, reducing the likelihood that a species will shift its distribution by diminishing the number of potential colonists. In the most extreme cases, species ranges could collapse over a broad geographic area with no poleward migration and an increased risk of species extinction. Changes in individual species ranges are the processes that drive larger phenomena such as changes in land cover, ecosystem type, and even changes in carbon cycling. For example, consider the poleward range shift and population outbreaks of the mountain pine beetle that has decimated millions of acres of Douglas fir trees in the western US and Canada. Standing dead trees cause forest fires and release vast quantities of carbon to the atmosphere. The beetle likely shifted its range because it is not locally adapted across its range, and it appears to be limited by winter low temperatures that have steadily increased in the last decades. To understand range and abundance changes like the pine beetle, we must reveal the extent of adaptive variation across species ranges - and the physiological basis of that adaptation - to know if other species will change as readily as the pine beetle. Ecologists tend to assume that range shifts are the dominant response of species to climate change, but our experiments suggest that other processes may act in some species that reduce the likelihood of geographic range change. In the first part of our DOE grant (ending 2008) we argued that the process of local adaptation of populations within a species range, followed by climatic changes that occur too quickly for adaptive evolution, is an underappreciated mechanism by which climate change could affect biodiversity. When this process acts, species ranges may not shift readily toward the poles, slowing the rate of species and biome change. To test this claim, we performed an experiment comparing core and peripheral populations in a series of field observations, translocation experiments, and genetic analyses. The papers in Appendix A were generated from 2005-2008 funding. In the second part of the DOE grant (ending 2011) we studied which traits promote population differentiation and local adaptation by building genomic resources for our study species and using these resources to reveal differences in gene expression in peripheral and core populations. The papers in Appendix B were generated from 2008-2011 funding. This work was pursued with two butterfly species that have contrasting life history traits (body size and resource specialization) and occupy a common ecosystem and a latitudinal range. These species enabled us to test the following hypotheses using a single phylogenetic group.

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  • Report No.: DOE-UND-64023
  • Grant Number: FG02-05ER64023
  • DOI: 10.2172/1043882 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 1043882
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc829385

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Reports, articles and other documents harvested from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information.

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  • December 20, 2011

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • May 19, 2016, 3:16 p.m.

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  • June 15, 2016, 12:48 p.m.

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Hellmann, J. J. & LOBO, N. F. Predicting the impacts of climate change on animal distributions: the importance of local adaptation and species' traits, report, December 20, 2011; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc829385/: accessed September 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.