Evolution, climate change, and extreme events

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Science  04 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6350, pp. 451-452
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao2067

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Climatic extremes such as unusual heat waves, droughts, or exceptional rainfall have been tied directly or indirectly to the rapid increase in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and resulting rise in temperature and are expected to become more frequent as the climate warms further (1). Ecologists have studied their effects on biological communities, warning of changes in the distribution of species, altered composition of communities, and impending extinctions (2). Extreme events can also bring about evolutionary changes (3), but these changes have been rarely studied because such events are cryptic, rare, and unpredictable. On page 495 of this issue, Campbell-Staton et al. (4) report an unusually detailed example of natural selection caused by an extreme event. The study shows what needs to be done to detect the evolutionary effects of rare events and offers insights into biological consequences of global warming.