Precipitation drives global variation in natural selection

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Science  03 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6328, pp. 959-962
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2773

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Climate-driven selection

Climate change will fundamentally alter many aspects of the natural world. To understand how species may adapt to this change, we must understand which aspects of the changing climate exert the most powerful selective forces. Siepielski et al. looked at studies of selection across species and regions and found that, across biomes, the strongest sources of selection were precipitation and transpiration changes. Importantly, local and regional climate change explained patterns of selection much more than did global change.

Science, this issue p. 959


Climate change has the potential to affect the ecology and evolution of every species on Earth. Although the ecological consequences of climate change are increasingly well documented, the effects of climate on the key evolutionary process driving adaptation—natural selection—are largely unknown. We report that aspects of precipitation and potential evapotranspiration, along with the North Atlantic Oscillation, predicted variation in selection across plant and animal populations throughout many terrestrial biomes, whereas temperature explained little variation. By showing that selection was influenced by climate variation, our results indicate that climate change may cause widespread alterations in selection regimes, potentially shifting evolutionary trajectories at a global scale.

  • Present address: Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), University Pau and Pays Adour, St. Pée sur Nivelle, France.

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