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Climate change effects on wild populations

Global climatic change has already affected the biology of many plant and animal populations. An EU project has investigated data spanning 50 years to find changes in the wild yellow bellied marmots of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Climate change effects on wild populations
Environmental change potentially affects the natural selection process acting on wild populations. In parallel with this, there can be corresponding changes in the phenotypic traits that affect fitness and ultimately survival.

The PHENOLOGICAL CHANGES (Integrating the ecological and evolutionary consequences of phenological change in a wild mammal system) project has used cutting-edge techniques to separate genetic and environmental components. Their contribution to genetic variance in fitness was then assessed.

Multi-disciplinary, combining behavioural ecology, life-history theory, population dynamic models and quantitative genetic theory, the study focused on the whole phenotype. This included traits as diverse as behaviour (e.g. anti-predatory vigilance, docility and sociality) to physiological characteristics such as endocrine state and immune function.

PHENOLOGICAL CHANGES research showed strong changes in environmental effects and additive genetic variance that were not accompanied by alterations in heritability.

As the longest time span dataset available on a wild mammal was used, the team expected evolutionary changes due to climate and other environmental changes. However, there was no causal effect of the environment on the observed changes in fitness.

Project outcomes shed new light on the impact of environmental changes on wild populations and the data provides an important knowledge base for further study. The tools developed could be used to optimise wild-life conservation management.

Related information


Climate change, wild population, environment, natural selection, genetic variance
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