Evolutionary capacity of many fruit fly species will lag behind pace of climate change, researchers say

Sep 18, 2012
Evolutionary capacity of many fruit fly species will lag behind pace of climate change, researchers say
Fruit flies are ill-equipped to adapt to increases in global temperatures.

(Phys.org)—Many species of fruit fly lack the ability to adapt effectively to predicted increases in global temperatures and may face extinction in the near future, according to new research.

In a study published today in , researchers from Monash University, The University of Melbourne and Danish collaborators showed that many species of fruit fly appear to be constrained within an evolutionary straitjacket and can't readily adapt to climate change-related temperature increases.

Dr Vanessa Kellermann from Monash University's School of Biological Sciences said current projections predict a 3ºC increase in mean in the next century and even greater increases in extremes.

"Given our findings, these expected increases pose a major threat to biodiversity in the near future. Particularly as Drosophila or fruit fly findings are often more broadly applicable," Dr Kellermann said. 

By examining nearly 100 species of fruit fly from around the world, the researchers showed that species had evolved to the and humidity of their environments. However, they had very little flexibility in being able to change their levels of and seem unable to adapt to increased temperatures in the future.

High heat resistance is a feature of only some branches of the phylogeny - the tree that shows how species are related through evolution - of Drosophila. Other branches had very limited ability to change their levels of heat resistance; even when flies native to cooler areas grew up in a warm environment, their was not significantly altered.

"The problem is that only a handful of species have adapted to hot environments while most species have not and it seems very difficult to switch once you are stuck on a phylogenetic branch," Dr Kellermann said. 

The researchers looked at species' prospects for dealing with projected temperature increases in the near future.

"If a species can only withstand temperatures of 36ºC and the maximum temperature of the environment is already 36ºC, an increase of even 1ºC would already put this species over the edge towards extinction," Dr Kellermann said. 

Using this method, the researchers identified at-risk species and found that most tropical and mid-latitude species fell into this category.

"Without rapid adaptation, which now seems very unlikely, a lot of species may fall over under even a mild increase in temperature," Dr Kellermann said.

Explore further: Researchers collect soil samples from around the globe in effort to conduct fungi survey

Related Stories

New study reveals contrasting consequences of warmer Earth

Sep 03, 2012

A new study, by scientists from the Universities of York, Glasgow and Leeds, involving analysis of fossil and geological records going back 540 million years, suggests that biodiversity on Earth generally increases as the ...

Recommended for you

Male sex organ distinguishes 30 millipede species

4 hours ago

The unique shapes of male sex organs have helped describe thirty new millipede species from the Great Western Woodlands in the Goldfields, the largest area of relatively undisturbed Mediterranean climate ...

Dogs hear our words and how we say them

Nov 26, 2014

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tausch
3 / 5 (2) Sep 18, 2012
Predicting adaptions. Based on past extinctions or failure to adapt?
We are back to global changes of climate - the past, present and future.

Is there an alternative to adaptation (besides extinction)when viewed in the light of past, present, and future global changes?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.