Evolution to the Rescue
Bell, G. and Gonzalez, A. 2009. Evolutionary rescue can prevent extinction following environmental change. Ecology Letters 12: 942-948.
"Using techniques in experimental evolution," Bell and Gonzalez say they "tested the conditions for evolutionary rescue (ER)" in a study of hundreds of yeast populations that "were exposed to normally lethal concentrations of salt in conditions where the frequency of rescue mutations was estimated and population size was manipulated." Results indicated that "in a striking match with theory," the authors observed "a clear example of the U-shaped curve hypothesized by Gomulkiewicz and Holt (1995) to characterize ER: the dual process of collapse under stress followed by selection leading to renewed adaptation and subsequent growth," which chain of events suggests that the original yeast population "contained a small number of resistant cells at the outset which were able to proliferate as the majority of susceptible cells were dying."
The Canadian scientists say their results "demonstrate that rapid evolution is an important component of the response of small populations to environmental change," and that they "provide the first experimental demonstration of ER and confirm that it is qualitatively and quantitatively consistent with the outcome predicted by theory," citing the studies of Gomulkiewicz and Holt (1995), Holt and Gomulkiewicz (1997), Bell (2008) and Orr and Unckless (2008). Hence, there is reason to believe that earth's plants and animals are genetically well prepared to weather the types of rapid climate change that they have, in fact, already encountered and survived in centuries and millennia past.
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