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Landscape linked to genetic adaptation and global change

Earth's ecosystems are facing rapid changes in land use, landscape composition and climate. These environmental changes have profound consequences for the ability of species to persist and adapt by causing them to shift their ranges, which can alter their evolution within ecosystems.
Landscape linked to genetic adaptation and global change
Climate change and the fragmentation of natural habitats can have a major impact on biodiversity. A species' genetic characteristics and vulnerability to climate change and habitat fragmentation are influenced by two key processes: ability to disperse and colonise new areas, and ability to adapt to these new areas.

The EU-funded project MOVE2ADAPT (Linking landscape genetic structure with local adaptation to changing environments) was launched to investigate these processes in a range-expanding damselfly (Ischnura elegans) in Sweden. The initiative identified topographic, land use and climatic factors that determined dispersal patterns involved in local adaptation to environmental conditions in I. elegans.

This approach is often referred to as landscape genetics/genomics and allows for environmental effects on genetic connectivity and evolutionary processes to be examined. Researchers therefore studied the effects of environmental change on gene flow and local adaptation in natural populations by using high-throughput DNA sequencing (RADseq) for single-nucleotide polymorphisms to genotype of hundreds of individuals sampled across a latitudinal gradient of around five degrees.

Three environmental variables related to temperature were identified: mean annual temperature, mean diurnal temperature variation and temperature seasonality. These showed the highest number of genotype-environment associations and the overlap among the three variables indicated genes that may be more generally associated with temperature adaptation in I. elegans.

Results from MOVE2ADAPT have revolutionised the way in which genomic information is used to understand local adaptation processes, by associating genomic markers (mapped to a reference genome) with environmental variables. These methods allowed scientists to test how species will respond to climate and land-use change and their effects on the distribution of species' genetic diversity and adaptive potential.

By characterising the genomic landscape of a species throughout its range, MOVE2ADAPT provided theoretical and practical insights into the relative roles of gene flow, environment, ecological variables and local adaptation in driving evolution. It will also help in the prioritisation management of landscapes to conserve the connectivity of habitats and adaptive variation in species.

The techniques used are not only applicable to conservation but also for controlling the spread of pests in both agriculture and the wild by identifying possible containment routes or priority treatment areas.

Related information

Subjects

Life Sciences

Keywords

Landscape, land use, climate change, habitat fragmentation, MOVE2ADAPT, Ischnura elegans
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