Invoking adaptation to decipher the genetic legacy of past climate change

Guillaume de Lafontaine, Joseph D. Napier, Rémy J. Petit, Feng Sheng Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Persistence of natural populations during periods of climate change is likely to depend on migration (range shifts) or adaptation. These responses were traditionally considered discrete processes and conceptually divided into the realms of ecology and evolution. In a milestone paper, Davis and Shaw (2001) Science 292:673 argued that the interplay of adaptation and migration was central to biotic responses to Quaternary climate, but since then there has been no synthesis of efforts made to set up this research program. Here we review some of the salient findings from molecular genetic studies assessing ecological and evolutionary responses to Quaternary climate change. These studies have revolutionized our understanding of population processes associated with past species migration. However, knowledge remains limited about the role of natural selection for local adaptation of populations to Quaternary environmental fluctuations and associated range shifts, and for the footprints this might have left on extant populations. Next-generation sequencing technologies, high-resolution paleoclimate analyses, and advances in population genetic theory offer an unprecedented opportunity to test hypotheses about adaptation through time. Recent population genomics studies have greatly improved our understanding of the role of contemporary adaptation to local environments in shaping spatial patterns of genetic diversity across modern-day landscapes. Advances in this burgeoning field provide important conceptual and methodological bases to decipher the historical role of natural selection and assess adaptation to past environmental variation. We suggest that a process called “temporal conditional neutrality” has taken place: some alleles favored in glacial environments become selectively neutral in modern-day conditions, whereas some alleles that had been neutral during glacial periods become under selection in modern environments. Building on this view, we present a new integrative framework for addressing the interplay of demographic and adaptive evolutionary responses to Quaternary climate dynamics, the research agenda initially envisioned by Davis and Shaw (2001) Science 292:673.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1530-1546
Number of pages17
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Quaternary
  • adaptation
  • climate change
  • gene flow
  • genetic diversity
  • genetic drift
  • migration
  • natural selection
  • population genomics
  • postglacial
  • range shift

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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