First genetic response in animal species to global warming

February 12, 2003

For the first time ever, a University of Alberta researcher has discovered that an animal species has changed its genetic make-up to cope with global warming. In the past, organisms have shown the flexibility--or plasticity--to adapt to their surroundings, but this is the first time it has been proven a species has responded genetically to cope with environmental forces. Dr. Stan Boutin, from the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, has been studying a North American red squirrel population in Canada's southwest Yukon for almost 15 years. The squirrels, faced with increasing spring temperatures and food supply, have advanced the timing of breeding by 18 days over the last 10 years--six days for each generation. His findings appear on First Cite and will appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society London B next month.

Boutin and his colleagues used an approach called quantitative genetics, long used in agriculture but never before applied to a wild species. Through analytical modelling, the team of researchers was able to sort out how much of the squirrels' adaptation is due to a plastic, individual response and how much is due to genetics. "This has never been done before," said Boutin. "Other researchers have stopped at plasticity."

Phenotypic plasticity is measured by how an individual squirrel can change the timing of a reproductive cycle from one year to the next compared to one generation to the next, which is what Boutin is studying. "Only by having long-term lineages can we get at this research," he said.

Although this discovery shows the red squirrel is adapting well to its warmer environment, the future is still a concern to scientists especially considering the rapid rate of climate change. Predicting the squirrel's threshold is also impossible, said Boutin, so it is difficult to know if the animal has reached is peak of "adaptation skills." The next step is to look at different components of the genome to see if researchers can pinpoint more closely the set of genes responsible for these changes.
-end-
Other authors on the paper are Andrew McAdam from the University of Alberta, Denis Réale, from McGill University, and Dominique Berteaux from the Université du Québec. Research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada.

The U of A in Edmonton, Alberta is one of Canada's premier teaching and research universities serving more than 33,000 students with 6,000 faculty and staff. It continues to lead the country with the most 3M Teaching Fellows, Canada's only national award recognizing teaching excellence.

University of Alberta

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.