Genomic signals of selection predict climate-driven population declines in a migratory bird

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Science  05 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6371, pp. 83-86
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan4380

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Yellow warblers already in decline

As the climate changes, species' ability to adapt to changing conditions may relate directly to their future persistence. Determining whether and when this will happen is challenging, however, because it is difficult to tease apart the causes of decline or maintenance. Bay et al. looked at the relationship between genomic variation and the environment in North American populations of the yellow warbler (see the Perspective by Fitzpatrick and Edelsparre). Genes linked to exploratory and migratory behavior were important for successful climate adaptation. Furthermore, populations identified as “genetically vulnerable” because of limited climate-associated genomic variation were already declining.

Science, this issue p. 83; see also p. 29


The ongoing loss of biodiversity caused by rapid climatic shifts requires accurate models for predicting species’ responses. Despite evidence that evolutionary adaptation could mitigate climate change impacts, evolution is rarely integrated into predictive models. Integrating population genomics and environmental data, we identified genomic variation associated with climate across the breeding range of the migratory songbird, yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia). Populations requiring the greatest shifts in allele frequencies to keep pace with future climate change have experienced the largest population declines, suggesting that failure to adapt may have already negatively affected populations. Broadly, our study suggests that the integration of genomic adaptation can increase the accuracy of future species distribution models and ultimately guide more effective mitigation efforts.

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