Managing microevolution: restoration in the face of global change
A potential source of increased short term and long term success of ecological conservation and restoration has been identified. As the key to genetic biological diversity in the face of climate change, this source lies in the study of microevolution and its incorporation in ecological restoration practices and restoration designs. In nearly all recent scientific literature regarding climate change and its effect on ecosystems and species, a purely ecological perspective is used.
My hypothesis, that evolution obviously wasn't the focus of ecological restoration because it occurs over long periods of time in incremental changes, was quickly claimed as a myth by the authors as I read on. The authors provide examples of genetic adaptation occurring within just a few generations. A purely ecological perspective on adaptation would state that species could just migrate to another, more suitable ecosystem. Yet the authors claim this is not a feasible option as habitat degradation is too great that this is not a sustainable method of hypothesizing adaptation to climate change.
The authors reflect upon their study comparing vernal pools and blue oak woodland communities, very distinct in species make up and type, yet both popular to the California landscape. The authors highlight the role of species demographics in understanding how genetic processes would be benefitial or not to that ecosystem type. In summary, vernal pools are inherently adaptable due to their wide range of ecosystem state and the annual cycle many of its plant species reproduce under. In contrast, blue oak woodland is a slow growth population with acorns requiring nearly 20 years for reproduction. Vernal pool species demographics have a greater genetic capacity for climate change while an old growth blue oak woodland will likely face an imminent extinction.
The reading takes us through a thorough methodology explaining what a restoration biologist might do to manipulate genetic information in hopes of improving adaptability to climate change by targeting species populations. What seemed to be very vague and not a clearly applicable strategy, it still doesn't seem there is a tangible application to restoration ecologists and efforts they can take. As "risky of a business" it might seem, the ecosystem examples highlight the necessity of genetic predictability in conservation and restoration projects can at the least suggest where resources might be better spent.
While this article ended in a cynical manor after laying out the realm of possibilities for us, one aspect I thought was really optimistic was the influence humans might have. Yes, our anthropogenic footprint and its dominating force accelerating climate change is dismal. But the authors pose humans as a prospective vector for genetic distribution across landscapes with gene pools that might not otherwise have exchange or contact.
This read is convincing and it seems incredibly important to think about genetic diversity through a microevolutionary lens. Yet, they admit this is an incredibly complex undertaking and make no promises that an microevolutionary application will be available for restoration ecologists any time soon.