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Evolution to the Rescue!
Volume 17, Number 17: 23 April 2014

In an editorial published in Functional Ecology that addresses the question of whether or not earth's plants and animals can evolve rapidly enough to keep pace with the rate of climate change that many are predicting, J.K. Baily (2014) of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee (USA) writes that "evolution has generally been taught and thought of as a slow process resulting from the accumulation of small genetic changes that may ultimately lead to genetic divergence and speciation," but he goes on to say that "this perspective is changing, largely due to three points that are also fundamental to the argument for incorporating an evolutionary perspective into climate change research."

These three points are that (1) "rapid evolution is common," that (2) "genetic divergence occurs along a variety of gradients, including those affected by global change," and that (3) "genetic divergence in a variety of species can impact ongoing species interactions, community structure, biodiversity and ecosystem function."

Expounding on points number 1 and 2, Baily writes that "studies in multiple systems make it evident that species have an evolutionary response to virtually any gradient considered and that rapid evolution in response to these gradients results in among-population-level genetic divergence," citing in support of this statement the fact that "contemporary rapid evolution has resulted in changes to life-history traits, physiological traits, morphological traits, behavioral traits and even species interactions across many different species," as described in the recent book of Thompson (2013) and the earlier study of Pelletier et al. (2009).

In his concluding remarks, Baily calls our attention to several papers appearing in a recent Special Feature of Functional Ecology, namely, those of Hargreaves and Eckert (2014), Ikeda et al. (2014), Michalet et al. (2014), Rasmann et al. (2014), Read et al. (2014), Schweitzer et al. (2014), Bailey et al. (2014) and Kremer et al. (2014).

"Hopefully," as he thus ends his editorial, Bailey opines that "this body of work heralds a new direction in climate change research and broadens our perspectives on the consequences of gradients to eco-evolutionary dynamics in a changing world," as we also hope will be the case.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Baily, J.K. 2014. Incorporating eco-evolutionary dynamics into global change research. Functional Ecology 28: 3-4.

Baily, J.K., Genung, M.A., Ware, I., Gorman, C., Nuland, M.V., Long, H. and Schweitzer, J.A. 2014. Indirect genetic effects: an evolutionary mechanism linking feedbacks, genotypic diversity and coadaptation in a climate change context. Functional Ecology 28: 87-95.

Hargreaves, A.L. and Eckert, C.G. 2014. Evolution of dispersal and mating systems along geographic gradients: implications for shifting ranges. Functional Ecology 28: 5-21.

Ikeda, D.H., Bothwell, H.M., Lau, M.K., O'Neill, G.A., Grady, K.C. and Whitham, T.G. 2014. A genetics based Universal Community Transfer Function for predicting the impacts of climate change on future communities. Functional Ecology 28: 65-74.

Michalet, R., Schob, C., Lortie, C.J., Brooker, R.W. and Callaway, R.M. 2014. Partitioning net interactions among plants along altitudinal gradients to study community responses to climate change. Functional Ecology 28: 75-86.

Pelletier, F., Garant, D. and Hendry, A.P. 2009. Eco-evolutionary dynamics. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 364: 1483-1489.

Rasmann, S., Pellissier, L., Defossez, E., Jactel, H. and Kunstler, G. 2014. Climate-driven change in plant-insect interactions along elevation gradients. Functional Ecology 28: 46-54.

Read, Q.D., Moorhead, L.C., Swenson, N.G., Bailey, J.K. and Sanders, N.J. 2014. Convergent effects of elevation on functional leaf traits within and among species. Functional Ecology 28: 37-45.

Schweitzer, J.A., Juric, I., van de Voorde, T.F.J., Clay, K., van der Putten, W.H. and Bailey, J.K. 2014. Are there evolutionary consequences of plant-soil feedbacks along soil gradients? Functional Ecology 28: 55-64.

Thompson, J.N. 2013. Relentless Evolution. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, USA.