A framework for incorporating evolutionary genomics into biodiversity conservation and management

Authors: Ary Hoffmann, Philippa Griffin, Shannon Dillon, Renee Catullo, Rahul Rane, Margaret Byrne, Rebecca Jordan, John Oakeshott, Andrew Weeks, Leo Joseph, Peter Lockhart, Justin Borevitz and Carla Sgrò

Published in: Climate Change Responses, volume 2, issue 1 (January 2015)


Evolutionary adaptation drives biodiversity. So far, however, evolutionary thinking has had limited impact on plans to counter the effects of climate change on biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. This is despite habitat fragmentation diminishing the ability of populations to mount evolutionary responses, via reductions in population size, reductions in gene flow and reductions in the heterogeneity of environments that populations occupy.

Research on evolutionary adaptation to other challenges has benefitted enormously in recent years from genomic tools, but these have so far only been applied to the climate change issue in a piecemeal manner.

Here, we explore how new genomic knowledge might be combined with evolutionary thinking in a decision framework aimed at reducing the long-term impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services. This framework highlights the need to rethink local conservation and management efforts in biodiversity conservation.

We take a dynamic view of biodiversity based on the recognition of continuously evolving lineages, and we highlight when and where new genomic approaches are justified.

In general, and despite challenges in developing genomic tools for non-model organisms, genomics can help management decide when resources should be redirected to increasing gene flow and hybridisation across climate zones and facilitating in situ evolutionary change in large heterogeneous areas. It can also help inform when conservation priorities need to shift from maintaining genetically distinct populations and species to supporting processes of evolutionary change.

We illustrate our argument with particular reference to Australia’s biodiversity.


Hoffmann AA, Griffin P, Dillon S, Catullo R, Rane R, Byrne M, Jordan R, Oakeshott J, Weeks AR, Joseph L, Lockhart P, Borevitz J, Sgrò CM (2015) A framework for incorporating evolutionary genomics into biodiversity conservation and management. Climate Change Responses PDF DOI

No patterns in thermal plasticity along a latitudinal gradient in Drosophila simulates from eastern Australia

Authors: Belinda van Heerwaarden, Richard Foo Heng Lee, Johannes Overgaard and Carla M Sgrò

Published in: Journal of Evolutionary Biology, volume 27, issue 11 (November 2014)


Phenotypic plasticity may be an important initial mechanism to counter environmental change, yet we know relatively little about the evolution of plasticity in nature.

Species with widespread distributions are expected to have evolved higher levels of plasticity compared with those with more restricted, tropical distributions.

At the intraspecific level, temperate populations are expected to have evolved higher levels of plasticity than their tropical counterparts. However, empirical support for these expectations is limited. In addition, no studies have comprehensively examined the evolution of thermal plasticity across life stages.

Using populations of Drosophila simulans collected from a latitudinal cline spanning the entire east coast of Australia, we assessed thermal plasticity, measured as hardening capacity (the difference between basal and hardened thermal tolerance) for multiple measures of heat and cold tolerance across both adult and larval stages of development. This allowed us to explicitly ask whether the evolution of thermal plasticity is favoured in more variable, temperate environments.

We found no relationship between thermal plasticity and latitude, providing little support for the hypothesis that temperate populations have evolved higher levels of thermal plasticity than their tropical counterparts.

With the exception of adult heat survival, we also found no association between plas- ticity and ten climatic variables, indicating that the evolution of thermal plasticity is not easily predicted by the type of environment that a particular population occupies. We discuss these results in the context of the role of plasticity in a warming climate.


van Heerwaarden B, Lee RFH, Overgaard J, Sgrò CM (2014) No patterns in thermal plasticity along a latitudinal gradient in Drosophila simulans from eastern Australia. Journal of Evolutionary Biology PDF DOI

Dr Vanessa Kellerman awarded L’Oréal Fellowship

Congratulations to ARC Postpocoral fellow Dr Vanessa Kellerman who has been awarded a coveted L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship.

The $25,000 fellowship is awarded annually to three female scientists with no more than five years of post-doctoral experience. The fellowships are awarded to women who have shown scientific excellence in their career, and are designed to help women scientists consolidate their careers and rise to leadership positions in science.

Dr Vanessa Kellerman

Dr Vanessa Kellerman has been awarded one of three L’Oréal Fellowships allocated annually to exemplary women in science.

Vanessa is working with Drosophila fruit fly species from Tasmania to tropical Queensland as model organisms for investigating the capacity of species to adapt to climate change. She has already demonstrated that tropical flies are more vulnerable to change in the long term; they don’t have the genetic capacity to evolve quickly. Now, with her L’Oréal Fellowship, she will explore how flexible they are in the short term — how individual insects can respond to change during their lifetimes.

“The thinking is that if the speed of climate change is quicker than genetic change, then perhaps immediate changes in the body’s thermal tolerance can hold the fort, while evolution catches up” Vanessa said.

“Plasticity is a real hole in our knowledge of adaptation. No one has really set out to examine the variation in plasticity over so many species. The L’Oréal Fellowship will allow me to scope out the project and determine what works.”

For more, see: How flies can help us predict the future.

Check out Vanessa’s YouTube video.