Can Evolution Outpace Climate Change?

Animals and plants may not be able to evolve their way out of the threat posed by climate change.

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Although the copepods are widespread geographically, individual populations are very isolated, confined to a single rocky outcrop where wave splash can carry them between pools. That means there is very little flow of new genes across the population as a whole.

“It’s been assumed that widespread species have a lot of genetic capacity to work with, but this study shows that may not be so,” said co-author Rick Grosberg, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. Many other species of animals, birds and plants face stress from climate change, and their habitats have also been fragmented by human activity -- perhaps more than we realize, he said.

“The critical point is that many organisms are already at their environmental limits, and natural selection won’t necessarily rescue them,” Grosberg said.

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