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CASC-supported scientists brought research and management communities together to identify evidence-based opportunities and challenges from evolutionary science that can support climate adaptation actions.

Plants and animals respond to changing stressors in their environments in various ways, but how quickly they adapt to these stressors can be a measure of their potential to persist in future, continually changing conditions. Understanding evolutionary adaptive capacity, or the ability of populations to evolve genetic traits in response to environmental change, can help managers determine which species could be vulnerable to future change, and which may be likely to adapt. However, climate adaptation strategies have not typically incorporated species’ evolutionary potential into climate adaptation strategies and planning. 

To identify current barriers to incorporating this information into climate planning, CASC-supported researchers led by National CASC ecologist Laura Thompson, with Midwest CASC researchers Lindsey Thurman and Olivia LeDee, brought the expertise of scientists, practitioners, and resource managers together to identify opportunities to translate evolutionary science into on-the-ground practices, as well as guidance for future research. The authors identified knowledge needs and available evidence to address those needs, which can be used when incorporating evolutionary potential in management planning.  

This guidance includes: 

-  identifying when to act 

-  understanding the feasibility of assessing evolutionary potential  

-  and identifying best management practices 

By integrating evidence of evolutionary potential into existing decision-making frameworks, managers may be better able to develop alternative assessment strategies, including incorporating evolutionary information when genetic information is lacking. These alternatives could help managers consider the evolutionary potential of data-deficient species in adaptation planning. This type of science can help build a strong base of evidence to best support climate adaptation actions. 

This work is supported by the National CASC project, “Can Evolution Help Wildlife Adapt to Climate Change? Exploring Evolutionary Adaptive Capacity (EVAC) and Bridging the Gap between Science and Management”. 

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