As worldwide temperatures rise and the earth sees extreme weather conditions in both summer and winter, a team of researchers with the University of Florida and Kansas State University have found that that there is potential for insects – and possibly other animals – to acclimate and rapidly evolve in the face of this current climate change.
"Organisms can deal with these stressful transitions from warm to cold by either acclimating – think about dogs putting on their winter coats – or by populations genetically evolving to deal with new stresses, a phenomenon known as rapid climate adaptation," said Alison Gerken, a post-doctoral associate with UF's Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and the lead author of a new study, published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While much of the emphasis regarding climate change is on overall warming, increased frequency of extreme weather events is also a critical concern. As fall and spring temperatures rise, animals will increasingly have to deal with rapid changes from warm conditions to dangerously cold temperatures as weather fronts sweep through. These "snap freeze" events threaten a variety of plants from agricultural crops to landscaping that are damaged and animals like insects, frogs, and even sea turtles that can suffer from cold.
Using fruit flies, Gerken and her team have described the genetic architecture for both long-term acclimation, as would be needed to prepare for the transition from summer to winter, and short-term acclimation, which could occur over a single day with a snap freeze. They have shown that there is substantial genetic variation in nature for both long-term seasonal acclimation and short-term acclimation associated with rapid extreme weather events.
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