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Eco-evolutionary responses of biodiversity to climate change


Climate change is predicted to alter global species diversity1, the distribution of human pathogens2 and ecosystem services3. Forecasting these changes and designing adequate management of future ecosystem services will require predictive models encompassing the most fundamental biotic responses. However, most present models omit important processes such as evolution and competition4,5. Here we develop a spatially explicit eco-evolutionary model of multi-species responses to climate change. We demonstrate that both dispersal and evolution differentially mediate extinction risks and biodiversity alterations through time and across climate gradients. Together, high genetic variance and low dispersal best minimized extinction risks. Surprisingly, high dispersal did not reduce extinctions, because the shifting ranges of some species hastened the decline of others. Evolutionary responses dominated during the later stages of climatic changes and in hot regions. No extinctions occurred without competition, which highlights the importance of including species interactions in global biodiversity models. Most notably, climate change created extinction and evolutionary debts, with changes in species richness and traits occurring long after climate stabilization. Therefore, even if we halt anthropogenic climate change today, transient eco-evolutionary dynamics would ensure centuries of additional alterations in global biodiversity.

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Figure 1: Relative contribution of evolutionary and ecological processes to change in the mean community trait (guide, lower left panel) over time (y axis, ranging from 0 to 500 generations) and space (x axis) in communities with competition.
Figure 2: Species (indicated by different coloured lines) abundances and traits over space (x axis for each panel) for different values of D (rows) and V (columns) before and after climate change has taken place in communities with competition.
Figure 3: Time development of the change in species richness during climate change (rate of change in temperature shown as grey shading rate is zero after time=300 indicated by the dashed vertical line, see also figure guide of Fig. 1, panel for climate change) for the hump-shaped environmental cline.


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This work was conducted as part of the Evolution in Meta-Communities Working Group supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a centre financially supported by the NSF (grant EF-0553768), the University of California, Santa Barbara and the State of California. Additional support was also provided for M. Urban, the NCEAS postdoctoral associate in the group. J.N. was supported by the Swedish Research Council and the Strategic Research Program EkoKlim at Stockholm University. M.C.U. was supported by NSF award DEB-1119877 and a J. F. McDonnell foundation grant. M.V. was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canada. N.L. received financial support from Université Pierre & Marie Curie and from CNRS. C.A.K. was supported by grants from the J. S. McDonnell Foundation and NSF awards DEB-0845825, OCE-0928819 and DEB-1136710. C. de Mazancourt provided insights for the partitioning of the change in mean trait. This is contribution 1700 of the Kellogg Biological Station.

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All authors conceived the problem and formulated the model. C.A.K. and J.N. coded the model. J.N. ran the simulations. All authors contributed to interpretation of results and writing the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jon Norberg.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Norberg, J., Urban, M., Vellend, M. et al. Eco-evolutionary responses of biodiversity to climate change. Nature Clim Change 2, 747–751 (2012).

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