Adapting to climate change “it’s in our genes” — Another reason to ignore the extinction scare

Two model outcomes

Two different models predict two totally different futures. On the left, catastrophic extinction. On the right, happy bats. Click to enlarge

Yesterday a UN supercommittee of 145 scientists from 50 countries declared that one million species are set for extinction. The same day, ten other scientists published a paper pointing out that most modelers forget to allow for genetic variation and thus overestimate the extinction rate. (It’s like they’re modelling the World of Clones – take one small study, pretend they’re all the same — extrapolate globally.) Have a look at the big difference in model outcomes in figure 1 (right).

As I keep saying, 500 million years of brutal climate change means almost every species carries around an industrial tool-kit of handy genetic tricks. Matz et al estimated corals already have the genes to survived another 250 years of projected IPCC catastrophe (in the unlikely event that it happens). Liew et al showed corals even have epigenetic tricks as well as genetics ones.  Another group showed when corals are heated something like 74 different genes are activated — often  genes that we don’t even know what they’re there for.

My favourite all time Global Adaptability Prize goes to the saltwater ocean fish that were landlocked by an earthquake in 1964. Fifty years later, the descendants of those fish are freshwater fish. Nothing gets much more adaptable than that.

Razgour et al looked at 300 bats in Italy which had adapted to either hot and dry or cool and wet conditions. They took gene samples and found so much variation that they calculate that as long as the different bats can do long distance dating across the different forests their kids will cope just fine with a lot of climate change.  They looked at habitat loss, but even in over-developed capitalist Europe they estimate the hot-n-dry bats won’t have any trouble meeting cold-n-wet ones.

So much for the extinction disaster:

Genetic adaptation to climate change

Failure to account for genetic variation can result in overestimating extinction risk

Razgour et al, 2019

New research led by the University of Southampton has shown that the threat of range losses for some species as a result of climate change could be overestimated because of the ability of certain animals to adapt to rising temperatures and aridity. …

“Our findings suggest that incorporating adaptive intraspecific genetic variation is essential for realistic projections of species range losses under climate change and for preventing overestimation of future biodiversity losses.”

Current methods for assessing vulnerability ignore the potential for some animal populations to adapt genetically to their changing environment, meaning they are able to survive in warming temperatures and drier conditions better than other populations within the same species.

Dr Razgour said: “The most commonly used approach for forecasting the bats’ future suggests that the range of suitable habitats for them would diminish rapidly due to climate change. However, this assumes all bats within the same species cope with changing temperatures and drier climates in the same way. We developed a new approach that takes into account the ability of bats within the same species to adapt to different climatic conditions.”

Dr Razgour concluded: “We believe that if this model is used when assessing the vulnerability of any species to climate change we could reduce erroneous predictions and misplaced conservation efforts. Any conservation strategy should consider how individual animals can adapt locally and should focus not only on areas with threatened populations but also on making movement between populations easier. This is why it is important to look at the combined effect of climate change and habitat loss.”


Razgour et al (2019) Considering adaptive genetic variation in climate change vulnerability assessment reduces species range loss projections PNAS.

Liew, Y.J. Zoccola, D., Li, Y., Tambutté, E., Venn, A.A., Michell, C.T. Cui, G., Deutekom, E.S., Kaandorp, J.A., Voolstra, C.R., Forêt, S., Allemand, D., Tambutté, S. & Aranda, M. Epigenome-associated phenotypic acclimatization to ocean acidification in a reef-building coral. Science Advances 4, eaar8028 (2018).|  Press release.

Matz MV, Treml EA, Aglyamova GV, Bay LK (2018) Potential and limits for rapid genetic adaptation to warming in a Great Barrier Reef coral. PLoS Genet 14(4): e1007220.

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25 comments to Adapting to climate change “it’s in our genes” — Another reason to ignore the extinction scare

  • #

    One thing that is never mentioned is the devastation to all flying creatures by the obsession with the unreliable wind turbines.

    It is strange that there are never photos of the dead birds and bats that litter the ground around the monsters allowed to appear in the MSM.


    • #
      Graeme No.3

      The rats and other scavengers clear the ground. Species taking advantage of changes in the local eco-system.


    • #
      Ian Hill

      Notice at Mount Bryan about the Hallett Hill Wind Farm in South Australia, where I was a couple of weeks ago:

      “Birds and bats – Studies have shown that appropriately sited wind farms have no significant adverse effect on bird and bat populations. No endangered or threatened species were identified during surveys undertaken at every wind farm site in this region.”

      They’re not saying these animals are not killed – just no significant adverse effect! And any species identified were not endangered or threatened – so that’s OK then!

      One amusing thing about the information board was the incorrect notation used for carbon dioxide – it had CO2 but with the 2 in the squared position, as a superscript! But this was just an AGL notice erected about seven years ago. No scientists were used or harmed in its preparation!

      After that I went to Jamestown. You’d think the Martians had landed, as in The War of the Worlds! Talk about getting up close and personal to a gaggle of windmills.


      • #

        I suspect the board is referring to surveys taken before the subsidy farm was constructed and have nothing to do with what has happened since. In any normal undertaking someone would be collecting species data on remaining populations and on kills but I am not holding out a lot hope that that is being done.


  • #

    There appears to be a rising disregard to Darwin’s thesis of adaptation and subsequent evolution. As well, an indifference to the idea that 99.9% of all life on earth has gone extinct over eons to be replaced by those now existing. This process cannot be stopped by reducing CO2.


    • #

      Indeed. And where has it ever been stated or proven that all species must be kept in existence? And how would we even know if one species was responsible for the extinction of another, rather than it being human induced?


      • #

        1000 species become extinct, 1002 come into existence.

        Diversity thus increases.

        Heck, they STILL can’t name one species that has become extinct “because of climate change”.

        A small rat living on a tiny sand atoll in a cyclone prone region does not count as “climate change”.


  • #
    Travis T. Jones

    Cancel the coral-bleaching apocalypse as it looks like life has somehow found a way to adapt to temperature increases, you know, just like life on the planet has done for the past 500 million years or so:

    LIFE FINDS A WAY: Great Barrier Reef somehow adapting to global warming


  • #
    Another Ian

    A correlation – causation interpretation for Peter Fitz

    “US Drought At Historic Low”

    “None of the US is currently experiencing severe drought. CO2 is at 410 PPM.”

    “Compare with May, 1934 – when half of the US was experiencing severe or extreme drought. CO2 was 310 PPM.”


  • #
    Another Ian

    “Global warming apparently makes trees fall on power lines. Because …. science.

    Jury finds power companies mostly liable for Las Conchas Fire

    Scientists tell us that climate change is a critical contributor”

    Check the photos for “The horror of replacing scrawny, overgrown pine trees with beautiful deciduous trees!”


  • #

    Now now…how can you have a “crisis” if there really is none?


    • #

      A quedtion for budding arborists ( bad pun…sorry…) – in the california fires recently, many houses burnt down, but trees looked unscathed. Would that be flying ember fires setting the houses alight , or have the trees adapted to handle fires?


  • #
    Kinky Keith

    There may also be evidence of previous human adaptation to high atmospheric CO2 levels.

    Currently our bodies take in air with 400 ppm and give out 40,000 ppm in exhalation.
    That’s a significant “exchange ratio” of 100:1 and points to why living for a while in a submarine with air at 8,000 ppm CO2 is manageable.

    It’s the inspired O2 that does all the work in the body, helping remove unwanted Carbon from the bloodstream.

    Inspired CO2 does little but may be a safety device to ensure that bloodstream CO2 levels never get too low.

    Ain’t nature wonderful.



  • #

    Catastrophes, mud flows and tide,
    Buried billions of creatures worldwide,
    Leaving fossils in stone,
    Of their pressed skin and bone,
    And some went extinct when they died.


  • #

    The hot equatorial tropical regions are luxuriant in life.
    They have the highest species count by far on earth.
    The cold arctic region are almost devoid of species.
    A warming climate will be beneficial for life, and any temperature rise will be very limited.
    Rainfall and evaporation will increase so little change in freshwater availability overall.


  • #
    Rupert Ashford

    In my undergrad years we learnt about a moth species that also adapted to their environment. Said moths used to rest on tree trunks that happened to be light in colour, and the moths were predominantly light in colour with the darker ones being more prone to being taken by predators. Then people started burning coal, and the soot started ending up on the tree trunks, darkening them. All of a sudden the darker moths blended in better with their environment and were less prone to end up as somebody’s lunch while the lighter ones stood out and were more attractive to predators. Hey presto!! the population became darker within a few decades – all species are in a constant battle to adapt to their environment.


  • #

    A good example of real time evolution is the experience of the South American Pacu introduced in 1994 to the Sepik River in PNG as a food source due to overfishing of native species. Being a vegetarian species of the Piranha family it initially struggled on the native vegetation but eventually recovered feeding on native nuts that fall into the river. This diet caused the fish to evolve large cutting teeth and the high protein in the nuts caused the fish to grow much faster and much bigger. The Sepik Pacu then evolved into omnivores and started feeding on mammal carcasses and eventually attack live mammals including humans.

    All this evolution in twenty years.


  • #

    It is just astounding that people are prepared to believe that a change in temperature of a degree or two is going to result in wholesale extinctions. I spent a decade or two producing new cultivars of agricultural crops which gave me a fair appreciation of a couple of things. First, that there is an amazing range of variability available, even in species which are relatively new and not wholly naturally evolved. I say not natural in that both wheat and barley depend on agriculture for their survival. Second, that there is enormous tolerance and plasticity even in a highly selected, narrow gene pool. Thirdly, (after all, a couple is non binary these days) that there is huge variation in environment in short distances and short time frames and plants adapt physiologically, the ability is innate and does not depend on genetic drift.

    That should not be surprising as all the species which are still with us have evolved in a variable environment with rapid, in evolutionary terms, change in temperature, rainfall and even the dreaded CO2, they are good at coping as well as at evolving.

    Neil’s example of the Pacu is a case in point, I don’t claim knowledge of this specifically but I would be prepared to bet that the fish introduced had a range of tooth size and that here has been a subtle change in regulation of tooth growth involving changes in expression of existing genes and not any leap to “big teeth”. Given the dentition of its relatives the potential for “big teeth” was probably already there. It would be interesting to see if there is a split developing between carnivores and nut eaters. Good sharp flesh eating teeth are probably not the best for attacking nuts.

    Then to talk about a million extinctions is just meaningless. There may be a very small number of identified extinctions of highly specialised species adapted to a tiny environmental niche. These have basically trapped themselves into a dead end and are susceptible to any short term change within the range of natural variation. It is also unclear how many are actually species and how many are a variant trapped in a tiny geographic area with siblings elsewhere. Will there be a million extinctions? Basically unknowable. How many species are there? Also unknown and possibly unknowable. Estimates are increasing all the time, 1 million, 8.7 million (2011) with possibly 80% plus yet to be found, other estimates are up to one trillion. Evolution is like climate, a continuing process with species arising and going extinct all the time. If there are a trillion species there could be thousands of extinctions a day. Just as the temperature in Grandpa’s day has no special claim to be the best temperature, the species of Grandpa’s day do not have any special claim to immortality.

    Regardless, given the range and plasticity of traits in populations, the probability of significant extinctions being caused by a degree or two of temperature change is vanishingly small.

    On the other hand, habitat destruction, land use change and the like are real risks to many species. There is ample evidence that habitat destruction is greatest in subsistence societies and that increased availability of energy via fossil fuels is associated with better preservation of landscapes and environments. Restricting the availability of energy and attempts to move us all back to the stone age are a greater threat to both environment and threatened species than any increase in plant growth promoting trace gases.