Climate change time machine Adaptation to 30 years of warming in the Baltic Sea

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Earth mean surface temperature has increased by 1 °C since the industrial revolution, and this has already had considerable effects on animal and plant species. Ecological responses to the warming climate – often facilitated via phenotypic plasticity – are ubiquitous. However, even though evolution can occur rapidly there are only few examples of genetic adaptation to climate change.In my thesis, I used a near-natural system to study if and how organisms have adapted to 30 years of warming, and how this has affected competitive species interactions. I investigated Baltic Sea populations of the aquatic snails Galba truncatula and Theodoxus fluviatilis, which had been subjected to cooling water discharge from power plants, resulting in water temperatures 4 to 10 °C higher than in the surrounding sea.G. truncatula had high upper thermal limits and large acclimation potential. This plasticity may have helped the species to survive under the new conditions, allowing evolution through natural selection to take place. I found that the populations of the two thermal origins had diverged in SNP markers associated with warmer temperature, whereas divergence in selectively neutral markers was mainly related to geographical distance. Adaptation occurred from standing genetic variation, emphasizing the importance of genetic diversity and population size in enabling the persistence of populations. Changes in thermal sensitivity of growth and survival were subtle yet significant, and complied with theoretical models of thermal adaptation in ectotherms. At the community level, pre-adaptation to warmer conditions aided the native T. fluviatilis when competing with the alien Potamopyrgus antipodarum. However, interspecific competition limited the snails most in those traits favored under warming, highlighting the challenge of adapting to different selecting forces during global change.The persistence of species and populations under climate change depends on several factors - plasticity allowing for initial survival, evolvability in allowing the genetic changes, and species interactions affecting the new ecological niches. The results of my thesis indicate that persistence under climate change is possible when these factors align, but the relative roles of ecology and plasticity may explain why there are so few observed instances of evolution in response to climate change.