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sector_ico_Environment_trans Environment

Testing the conceptual foundations of assisted migration for species facing climate change

  • Project Leaders: Amy Angert, Loren Rieseberg
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $124964
  • Program/Competition: Sector Innovation Program
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2018
  • Status: Closed

Draft – not approved yet

Climate change is a biodiversity threat with dire economic and conservation implications. Many species cannot migrate or adapt quickly enough to persist. To speed climatic adaptation and rescue declining populations, some scientists advocate for assisted migration (AM), where humans move organisms to new or existing populations. AM is controversial because it is unclear whether benefits outweigh risks. Progress is hindered by lack of data to evaluate core assumptions of AM, as well as lack of practical and accessible ways to assess optimal sources of translocated individuals.

The team has tested two core assumptions of AM using scarlet monkeyflower as a model: (1) that genetic variation is geographically restricted such that targeted sites need AM to gain genetic variation for future climates, and (2) that helpful genetic variation can be found in places where current climate is most similar to future projections. 

They sequenced 655 individuals across 55 populations including samples spanning a period of exceptional warming and drying. Thousands of genetic variants were associated with higher temperatures, lower precipitation, and higher moisture deficit and mapped across the 55 sampled populations. This was used to generate a pipeline to identify donor populations for AM and to provide evidence that genetic variation across the environmental gradients of today may support adaptation for the climate change of tomorrow.

This project has advanced the science of AM. Through workshop materials and an analytical pipeline, the team provided freely available resources that could be leveraged by natural resource managers, conservation practitioners, government, and academic partners to assess the utility of AM in any system.