Rapid genetic divergence in response to 15 years of simulated climate change

Catherine H. Ravenscroft, Raj Whitlock, Jason D. Fridley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Genetic diversity may play an important role in allowing individual species to resist climate change, by permitting evolutionary responses. Our understanding of the potential for such responses to climate change remains limited, and very few experimental tests have been carried out within intact ecosystems. Here, we use amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) data to assess genetic divergence and test for signatures of evolutionary change driven by long-term simulated climate change applied to natural grassland at Buxton Climate Change Impacts Laboratory (BCCIL). Experimental climate treatments were applied to grassland plots for 15 years using a replicated and spatially blocked design and included warming, drought and precipitation treatments. We detected significant genetic differentiation between climate change treatments and control plots in two coexisting perennial plant study species (Festuca ovina and Plantago lanceolata). Outlier analyses revealed a consistent signature of selection associated with experimental climate treatments at individual AFLP loci in P. lanceolata, but not in F. ovina. Average background differentiation at putatively neutral AFLP loci was close to zero, and genomewide genetic structure was associated neither with species abundance changes (demography) nor with plant community-level responses to long-term climate treatments. Our results demonstrate genetic divergence in response to a suite of climatic environments in reproductively mature populations of two perennial plant species and are consistent with an evolutionary response to climatic selection in P. lanceolata. These genetic changes have occurred in parallel with impacts on plant community structure and may have contributed to the persistence of individual species through 15 years of simulated climate change at BCCIL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4165-4176
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • Adaptation
  • Climate change
  • Evolution
  • Genetic differentiation
  • Grassland

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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