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Title: Genetic variation in life history strategy and the responses of plant populations and communities to climate change
Author: Trinder, S. A.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6422 6498
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2017
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Climate change poses a major threat to biodiversity. Evolutionary responses may provide populations with a mechanism to adapt and persist through climate change. However, we still know little about the capacity for evolution in natural populations, or the genetic or ecological processes that constrain or facilitate responses. In this thesis we have studied evolutionary responses to climate change in the perennial grass Festuca ovina using a long-term climate manipulation experiment at the Buxton Climate Change Impacts Laboratory (BCCIL), Derbyshire, UK. At BCCIL, natural grassland has been subjected to climate treatments since 1994. Previous studies of this system have found phenotypic and genetic differentiation between plants from the drought and control treatments. We do not know whether these responses represent evolution sensu stricto, if they increase plant fitness under new conditions, or whether evolved phenotypes alter the interactions of F. ovina with co-existing species. We addressed these knowledge gaps using methods including common environment experiments, a simulated drought experiment and quantitative genetic analyses. We have shown that there is heritable genetic variation in drought-relevant traits in F. ovina, and that traits, including germination timing and tiller growth rate, have evolved in response to climate change. Our results suggest that these responses do not increase fitness under a short-term drought. However, an increase in the abundance of F. ovina in the drought treatment at BCCIL suggests that its ability to persist, relative to the other species, is not diminished, challenging our concept of fitness. We have also found that evolutionary responses to climate change may result in species becoming less competitive, which will alter interactions between species. Our results demonstrate that evolutionary responses may provide populations with a mechanism to persist through climate change, but that evolutionary responses can be constrained by many processes, including the feedback from biotic interactions. Therefore, integrated studies, incorporating both ecological and evolutionary processes, are essential in order to better understand and predict the responses of plant populations and communities to climate change.
Supervisor: Whitlock, R. ; Saccheri, I. ; Hartwell, J. ; Fay, M. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral