The DNA survey and analysis, led by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will be posted online this week ahead of regular publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"White spruce (Picea glauca) is a dominant species in the boreal forests of North America," said Lynn L. Anderson, lead author and doctoral student. "In the face of global warming, we need to study how plant and animal populations have responded to climate change in the past, to better predict what will happen in the future."
In their study, the researchers analyzed chloroplast DNA from 24 spruce forests in Alaska and Canada. Because chloroplast DNA contains genes inherited from only one parent, there is no confusing genetic recombination to take into account.
"We found a significant pattern in the geographic distribution of the chloroplast DNA haplotypes (groups of individuals with similar sequences of base pairs of genetic material) that differentiates into two regions," Anderson said.
The chloroplast DNA, the researchers write, "offers compelling evidence that white spruce survived the last glacial maximum and probably some of the previous glacial episodes in Alaska. This survival must have been facilitated by the existence of favorable microhabitats … and by adaptations of these trees to harsh climate."
The DNA data help resolve an old controversy over the manner in which trees had migrated in response to past climate change, said Feng Sheng Hu, an ecologist at Illinois and corresponding author of the paper.
"One view is that trees were restricted to areas south of the continental ice sheets covering North America, and then migrated extremely rapidly as the climate grew warmer," Hu said. "The other view is that there was a refuge in the ice-free areas north of the ice sheets, and spruce trees expanded within those areas as the climate warmed. It now seems clear that a glacial refuge existed, and the trees advanced from at least two directions."
Based on the data, it also appears likely that the migration rate was lower than previously thought.
"Our results suggest that estimated rates of tree migration from fossil pollen records are too high and that the ability of trees to keep pace with global warming is more limited than previously thought," said Hu, who has studied plant responses to climate change for 15 years. "Additional analysis of fossil pollen in sediments, as well as DNA data from living trees, could help pin down the actual rate of tree movement over time."
The researchers' findings also illustrate the great resilience of white spruce – and perhaps other tree species – to climate change, and have important implications for the future.
For example, isolated populations of trees might persist in locally suitable habitats for long periods after regional climatic conditions have become unfavorable as a result of rapid global warming. This resilience might reduce the probability of species extinction and allow time for efforts at biodiversity conservation.
Or maybe not.
"Our study looked at the past, before humans had made any significant impact on climate," said Hu. "In the future, both human and natural disturbances will likely interact with climate change to reduce resilience and trigger larger ecological shifts."
The study "illustrates the power of using genetic techniques to answer paleoecological questions relevant to global change," said co-author Ken N. Paige, who has studied the genetic structure and dynamics of plant and animal populations for more than 20 years. "It's likely that more new insights can be gained by studying other plant and animal species with this approach."
James E. Kloeppel | EurekAlert!
Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy