Evolutionary responses of European oaks to climate change.

  • Antoine Kremer INRA, UMR BIOGECO, Cestas F-33610, France.
Keywords: Gene flow, climate warming, species migration, population diversity.


There are widespread concerns that trees, as long lived species, may not be able to cope with future climate change. Trees experienced large climatic changes over much longer time periods during many previous interglacial periods. The evolutionary trajectories of trees during these periods were reconstructed in this study, in an attempt to predict how trees might respond to future environmental changes caused by climate change. Taking the European oaks as a study case, this review shows that rapid migration and adaptation, extensive gene flow and hybridisation were the main processes that permitted oak to track climatic warming in the past. Future evolutionary trends of oak populations in response to climate change are then considered. The potential for species to migrate via seed dispersal to more favourable locations (e.g. northwards) will be limited. On the other hand, it is likely that natural selection will act on a diverse gene pool (in part due to large population sizes), perhaps allowing local adaptation even if this ultimately reduces diversity. Substantial evolutionary shifts can be expected in a limited number of generations. The high levels of genetic diversity and gene flow from other populations will favour rapid adaptation. However, many tree populations may be tested to the limits of their adaptive potential, so some intervention may be needed. To enhance the adaptive potential of populations, it is recommended that genetic diversity should be increased by "mixing" local stock with non-local material (seeds or seedlings). Guidelines, providing information on permitted directions and distances for the transfer of reproductive material (seed or seedling), should be developed based on current scientific information, especially data from existing provenance tests.
How to Cite
Kremer, A. (2010). Evolutionary responses of European oaks to climate change. Irish Forestry. Retrieved from http://journal.societyofirishforesters.ie/index.php/forestry/article/view/10039
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