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Climate change and animal genetic diversity

Climate change and changes in land use are the two greatest threats to Europe's biodiversity. An EU-funded initiative has therefore investigated the roles played by climate and habitat variation in influencing population genetic diversity and evolutionary adaptation in songbirds.
Climate change and animal genetic diversity
Little is known about how climate change and habitat diversity (described as heterogeneity) contribute to the make-up of natural populations of vertebrates. However, these factors ultimately work together to influence gene flow, genetic structure and evolutionary adaptation.

The genetic make-up of populations throughout a heterogeneous environment is of fundamental interest to population biologists and ecologists. This is particularly true when phenotypic differences between populations are examined over a small area.

The DISPERSEADAPTSURVIVE (Roles of genetics and environmental variability in animal population resilience: Empirical testing in a changing world) project investigated the key factors controlling the population genetics and life history of the blue tit (Cyanistes careules).

Over the past 40 years blue tits living in nest boxes in diverse Mediterranean environments in southern France and Corsica have been monitored every breeding season. Project research involved two new lines of enquiry into this study system based on the use of genomic tools and remotely sensed satellite imagery. The goal was to quantify genomic and environmental diversity.

Restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (RAD-Seq) was used to investigate phenotypically differentiated populations of wild blue tits breeding in a highly diverse environment. The objective was to determine the genetic structure of the population, particularly with regard to the type of habitat it was living in.

The team also explored the use of remotely sensed satellite imagery to accurately observe habitat diversity at the study site. They also demonstrated its use when ground data is not available and evaluated changes over time in deciduous and evergreen oak trees, which are key for the blue tit's breeding success.

Results showed genetic variation to be influenced by geographical distance as well as the type of habitat (deciduous trees compared to evergreen oaks). This information, together with the remote sensing results, provides a basis for further studies into the ecological and evolutionary processes underlying the observed pattern of isolation by environment.

Related information


Climate change, genetic diversity, habitat variation, evolutionary adaptation, blue tit
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