Remember the movie where a weatherman (Bill Murray) finds himself living the same day over and over again? Remember the review about evolution and climate change we wrote in 2007 and published Molecular Ecology 2008 (link here)? The main message from that review (cited now 76 times, average of 26 citations/yr) was that there appears to be little indication that natural populations would be responding to on going climate change by genetic adaptations. Rather, the available evidence indicated that the changes we are observing are plastic environmentally induced responses to changing environmental conditions.
Once I presented this view in a meeting held in UCLA California in February 2007, people were seemingly sceptical, if not stunned – perhaps because the forceful way I went against the paradigm of microevolution. This sceptism is also reflected in Andrew Hendry’s evaluation of our paper in Faculty of 1000 (read it here).
However, most (relevant) studies made since the publication of our review seem to converge to conclusion it is plasticity rather than adaptation that is to account on going phenotypic changes in wild populations. The most recent addition to list of studies supporting this view comes from the study of yellow-bellied marmots published 22 July 2010 in Nature. Have a look on that paper (here) and accompning News & Views piece – a truly exemplary study which also links the phenotypic changes to demography of the populations.
To me, it is groundhog day allover again. Perhaps even a paradigm shift?
Ozgul A, DZ Childs, MK Oli, KB Armitage, DT Blumstein, LE Olson, S Tuljapurkar & T Coulson 2010. Coupled dynamics of body mass and population growth in response to environmental change. Nature 466: 482–485 (22 July 2010) doi:10.1038/nature09210