When Will a Changing Climate Outpace Adaptive Evolution?

Ryan A. Martin, Carmen R. B. da Silva, Michael P. Moore, Sarah E. Diamond
Posted on: 3/25/2024 - Updated on: 3/25/2024

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Decades of research have illuminated the underlying ingredients that determine the scope of evolutionary responses to climate change. The field of evolutionary biology therefore stands ready to take what it has learned about influences upon the rate of adaptive evolution—such as population demography, generation time, and standing genetic variation—and apply it to assess if and how populations can evolve fast enough to “keep pace” with climate change.

Here, our review highlights what the field of evolutionary biology can contribute and what it still needs to learn to provide more mechanistic predictions of the winners and losers of climate change. We begin by developing broad predictions for contemporary evolution to climate change based on theory. We then discuss methods for assessing climate-driven contemporary evolution, including quantitative genetic studies, experimental evolution, and space-for-time substitutions. 

After providing this mechanism-focused overview of both the evidence for evolutionary responses to climate change and more specifically, evolving to keep pace with climate change, we next consider the factors that limit actual evolutionary responses. In this context, we consider the dual role of phenotypic plasticity in facilitating but also impeding evolutionary change. Finally, we detail how a deeper consideration of evolutionary constraints can improve forecasts of responses to climate change and therefore also inform conservation and management decisions.


Martin, R.A., da Silva, C.R.B., Moore, M.P., Diamond, S.E. (2023). When will a changing climate outpace adaptive evolution? WIREs Clim Change, 14:e852. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.852.

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