Motive Project

Article alert: Increased mortality can promote evolutionary adaptation of forest trees to climate change

by: Ulla Vänttinen

Kuparinen, A., Savolainen, O., Schurr, F.M., 2010. Increased mortality can promote evolutionary adaptation of forest trees to climate change. Forest Ecology and Management 259 (5), pp. 1003-1008.

Forecasts of rapid climate change raise the question how quickly species can evolutionarily adapt to future climates. The adaptability of forest trees to environmental changes is generally promoted by high levels of genetic diversity and gene flow, but it can also be slowed down by long generation times and low mortality of established trees. Here, we investigate the adaptation of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Silver birch (Betula pendula) to climate change induced prolongation of the thermal growing season. We use quantitative genetic individual-based simulations to disentangle the relative roles of mortality, dispersal ability and maturation age for the speed of adaptation. The simulations predict that after 100 years of climate change, the genotypic growth period length of both species will lag more than 50% behind the climatically determined optimum. This lag is reduced by increased mortality of established trees, whereas earlier maturation and higher dispersal ability had comparatively minor effects. The evolutionary lag behind environmental change shown in our simulations stresses the importance of accounting for evolutionary processes in forecasts of the future dynamics and productivity of forests. Sensitivity of the adaptation speed to mortality suggests that species experiencing high mortality rates as well as populations subject to regular disturbances such as storms or fires might be the quickest to adapt to a warming climate.

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