The ongoing increase in global temperature affects biodiversity, especially in mountain regions where climate change is exacerbated. Recent evidence indicates that the Alpine flora responds to climate warming through both accelerated elevational range shifts and increased plant community height. However, it remains unknown to what degree Alpine plants, especially those with a long generation time, may adapt at the genetic level to follow the rapid pace of climate change. We combined present-day genomic variation in different age cohorts of Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra), a keystone species at the timberline, with interpolated and modelled climate data across the last two centuries to identify historical shifts in allele frequencies at genomic regions putatively associated with climatic variables. Contemporary juvenile cohorts in the core of today's elevational range, which experience different temperature conditions than those under which their progenitors established, showed similar shifts in allele frequency at temperature- and precipitation-associated compared to neutral loci. These recent allele frequency shifts were corroborated by forward-in-time simulations at neutral and adaptive loci. Juvenile cohorts at the upper colonization front exhibited adaptation patterns similar to those of adult cohorts of the core elevational range for temperature-associated loci, indicating that beneficial alleles for colder temperature moved uphill during colonization. However, in some putatively adaptive loci, high-elevation juvenile cohorts already showed signs of selection for beneficial alleles for warmer conditions, suggesting adaptation to recent climate change. Nevertheless, when projecting allele frequency changes into the future, the genomic vulnerability of low-elevation juvenile cohorts to future climatic changes appears high under the current climate trend (RCP4.5), and is even doubled under a more extreme scenario (RCP8.5). These results suggest that species with a long generation times may have difficulty keeping up with the rapid climate change occurring in high mountain areas and thus are prone to local extinction in their current main elevation range.
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The Biodiversity Seminar Series (BD-Seminars) are organized by the WSL Biodiversity Center. Every two weeks, we aim to host a seminar speaker that presents research or outreach on topics relevant to the biodiversity community at WSL. The seminars are public and are usually broadcasted online.
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