Is adaptation to climate change really constrained in niche specialists?

Belinda van Heerwaarden, Carla M. Sgrò

Abstract

Species with restricted distributions make up the vast majority of biodiversity. Recent evidence suggests that Drosophila species with restricted tropical distributions lack genetic variation in the key trait of desiccation resistance. It has therefore been predicted that tropically restricted species will be limited in their evolutionary response to future climatic changes and will face higher risks of extinction. However, these assessments have been made using extreme levels of desiccation stress (less than 10% relative humidity (RH)) that extend well beyond the changes projected for the wet tropics under climate change scenarios over the next 30 years. Here, we show that significant evolutionary responses to less extreme (35% RH) but more ecologically realistic levels of climatic change and desiccation stress are in fact possible in two species of rainforest restricted Drosophila. Evolution may indeed be an important means by which sensitive rainforest-restricted species are able to mitigate the effects of climate change.

  • Received February 16, 2014.
  • Accepted July 1, 2014.
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