Evolutionary responses to global change

Course Code :2201WETERG
Study domain:Biology
Academic year:2019-2020
Semester:1st semester
Contact hours:40
Credits:4
Study load (hours):112
Contract restrictions: No contract restriction
Language of instruction:English
Exam period:exam in the 1st semester
Lecturer(s)Raoul Van Damme
Erik Matthysen

3. Course contents *

The course describes how global change has induced modifications in the morphology, physiology, behaviour, phenology and life history of species. Approaches used to document these changes, and to test the link with global change, are introduced from case studies on a variety of taxa, traits and environmental drivers.

It is shown that modifications can be plastic, genetic or epigenetic in nature. Students learn how traditional and molecular techniques can be used to distinguish between different types of changes.

It is explained how genetic adaptation can be hampered by a dearth of heritable variation, by genetic constraints, gene flow and trade-offs; that micro-evolutionary response may lag behind on environmental change; and that an initially hefty response may decay over time. Techniques are introduced that can measure both the strength of and response to selection in the field. Students are familiarized with the idea of niche conservationism and its relevance to climate change biology.

It is explained that niches are now thought to be less conservative than previously assumed and that ecological and evolutionary time scales may overlap. Techniques used to estimate phylogenetic signal in niche and other traits are introduced.

The course explains how adaptation and dispersal interactively affect a species’ vulnerability to global change: how dispersal may both frustrate local adaptation and rescue peripheral populations, and how dispersal traits themselves can evolve in response to environmental drivers.

The relevance of micro-evolution in changing biotic interactions and ecosystem dynamics is discussed. It is explained how intraspecific genetic variation and micro-evolution may lead to eco-evolutionary feedbacks affecting predator-prey and host-parasite interactions, and more generally influence the functioning of ecosystems and stability of food webs.

The course also explores how historical information (e.g. changes that occurred during Pleistocene global chance) and past niche evolution can be used to predict responses to global change.