Connecting research and practice to enhance the evolutionary potential of species under climate change

Authors: Laura M Thompson, Lindsey L Thurman, Carly N Cook, Erik A Beever, Carla M Sgrò, Andrew Battles, Carlos A Botero, John E Gross, Kimberly R Hall, Andrew P Hendry, Ary A Hoffmann, Christopher Hoving, Olivia E LeDee, Claudia Mengelt, Adrienne B Nicotra, Robyn A Niver, Felipe Pérez‐Jvostov, Rebecca M Quiñones, Gregor W Schuurman, Michael K Schwartz, Jennifer Szymanski, and Andrew Whiteley

Published in: Conservation Science and Practice


Resource managers have rarely accounted for evolutionary dynamics in the design or implementation of climate change adaptation strategies.

We brought the research and management communities together to identify challenges and opportunities for applying evidence from evolutionary science to support on-the-ground actions intended to enhance species’ evolutionary potential. We amalgamated input from natural-resource practitioners and interdisciplinary scientists to identify information needs, current knowledge that can fill those needs, and future avenues for research.

Three focal areas that can guide engagement include:

  1. recognizing when to act,
  2. understanding the feasibility of assessing evolutionary potential, and
  3. identifying best management practices.

Although researchers commonly propose using molecular methods to estimate genetic diversity and gene flow as key indicators of evolutionary potential, we offer guidance on several additional attributes (and their proxies) that may also guide decision-making, particularly in the absence of genetic data.

Finally, we outline existing decision-making frameworks that can help managers compare alternative strategies for supporting evolutionary potential, with the goal of increasing the effective use of evolutionary information, particularly for species of conservation concern. We caution, however, that arguing over nuance can generate confusion; instead, dedicating increased focus on a decision-relevant evidence base may better lend itself to climate adaptation actions.

Historically, the rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was broadly distributed across prairies and grass-land habitats in eastern and upper-midwest Canada and the USA. The species experienced a widespread and steep decline in the early 2000s, precipitating its endangered status. Today, the species is extant in 11 US states and 1 Canadian province, a >50% reduction in its native range. The exact cause of the decline is unknown, but evidence suggests a synergistic interaction between an introduced pathogen and exposure to pesticides.Image credit: USFWS Midwest Region from United States, via Wikimedia Commons


Thompson LM, Thurman LL, Cook CN, Beever EA, Sgrò CM, Battles A, Botero CA, Gross JE, Hall KR, Hendry AP, Hoffmann AA, Hoving C, LeDee OE, Mengelt C, Nicotra AB, Niver RA, Pérez‐Jvostov F, Quiñones RM, Schuurman GW, Schwartz MK, Szymanski J, Whiteley A (2023) Connecting research and practice to enhance the evolutionary potential of species under climate change. Conservation Science and Practice PDF DOI