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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Can Wildlife Species Evolve in Response to a Changing Climate? Informing Species Vulnerability Assessments

Project Leader:
Project Investigators:
Keith Nislow
Andrew Whiteley

Climate change poses a variety of threats to biodiversity. Most efforts to assess the likely impacts of climate change on biodiversity try to rank species based on their vulnerability under changed environmental conditions. These efforts have generally not considered the ability of organisms to adjust their phenotype to the changing environment. Organisms can do this by one of two ways. First, they can adjust their phenotype via non-evolutionary pathways. Second, they can undergo adaptive evolutionary change.

We used two interconnected approaches to evaluate thermal adaptation capacity in a cold-water fish species. 1) Using tagging data, we estimated thermal performance curves for wild fish. The curves indicate how fish body growth will respond to changing temperatures. 2) Using genomic approaches, we developed a unified single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) panel for use across the species’ range to examine adaptive capacity. This panel can be used for high throughput genotyping of individuals to understand genetic diversity, health, and potential for thermal adaptation. Additionally, with the SNP panel we provide a valuable resource to the community of researchers working on Brook Trout conservation and management. The SNP panel will make it possible for individual datasets collected across the range to be standardized so that they can be used to examine both local processes and range wide patterns. Overall, our results help us understand how Brook Trout will respond to a changing climate.

This project was co-funded by the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center and the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative.