Evolution, ecosystems may buffer some species against climate change

March 5, 2009 by Jill Sakai

(Physorg.com) -- Although ecologists expect many species will be harmed by climate change, some species could be buffered by their potential to evolve or by changes in their surrounding ecosystems.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Arizona are using a common agricultural insect pest to understand how ecological and evolutionary factors drive population shifts in the face of a changing environment.

A study appearing March 6 in the journal Science shows that both ecological interactions within a food web and the potential for rapid evolutionary adaptation play critical roles in determining how populations of the legume-loving pea aphid fare during increasing bouts of hot weather, one aspect of predicted climate change.

One of the most important lessons of the work is that predictions of the consequences of environmental change on populations must take into account both ecological and evolutionary complexities, says Jason Harmon, a UW-Madison postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the new study.

"If you're interested in environmental change and how species are going to respond to it, you can't just look at a single species in isolation as it is right now. You have to think about those other species around it, and you have to think about the species' potential to change along with the environment," he says.

Bouts of high temperature decrease pea aphid reproduction, but inherited bacteria living symbiotically within the aphids bestow them with a possible evolutionary defense. "Because we can experimentally manipulate aphid bacteria, we have an excellent model system to explore evolutionary adaptation," says University of Arizona professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Nancy Moran, a co-author of the study.

The researchers showed that the degree of heat tolerance conferred by the symbiotic bacteria influenced whether the aphids thrived or succumbed to experimental heat stress in the field. The result shows that the potential for rapid evolution can have a large impact on how populations respond to environmental change, they say.

The detriment of the additional hot days also depended on which of two different predatory ladybeetle species was present, showing that the structures of local food webs may mitigate environmental changes.

"Right now, a lot of work is focused on just individual species," says UW-Madison zoology professor Anthony Ives. "To understand what happens to any one particular species, you need to broaden your scope and consider other species."

While predicting the response of species to climate change is complicated, Ives says, the new study may help de-mystify complex processes by identifying specific factors that are relevant. He hopes that this new work will help other scientists take a broad ecological and evolutionary view while studying the effects of environmental change.

"We're identifying things that people should look for because they could be important, as opposed to saying it's just too complicated," he says. "It's difficult, but not impossible."

Provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison

Explore further: Albatross populations in decline from fishing and environmental change

Related Stories

Study pinpoints arctic shorebird decline

November 21, 2017

A new study co-authored by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) addresses concerns over the many Arctic shorebird populations in precipitous decline. Evident from the study is that monitoring and protection of habitat where ...

Science update on climate change: from bad to worse

November 17, 2017

Scientists monitoring the Earth's climate and environment have delivered a cascade of grim news this year, adding a sense of urgency to UN talks on how best to draw down the greenhouse gases that drive global warming.

Study urges global-change researchers to embrace variability

November 15, 2017

Scientists typically make every effort to keep all factors but one constant when doing an experiment. Global-change scientists might move a coral from a reef to an aquarium whose water is held 1°C higher to test the effects ...

Ocean warming signals diet change for European shags

November 17, 2017

The diet of European shags has diversified as a result of warming North Sea temperatures according to a new long-term study led by the University of Liverpool and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Recommended for you

Energy-saving LEDs boost light pollution worldwide

November 22, 2017

They were supposed to bring about an energy revolution—but the popularity of LED lights is driving an increase in light pollution worldwide, with dire consequences for human and animal health, researchers said Wednesday.

Re-cloning of first cloned dog deemed successful thus far

November 22, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers with Seoul National University, Michigan State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has re-cloned the first dog to be cloned. In their paper published in the journal ...

Testing the advantage of being left-handed in sports

November 22, 2017

(Phys.org)—Sports scientist Florian Loffing with the Institute of Sport Science, University of Oldenburg in Germany has conducted a study regarding the possibility of left-handed athletes having an advantage over their ...

0 comments

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.