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Adaptation and evolution

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How do animals, plants and fungi react to changing environmental conditions? Do they adapt, migrate or die out? Using genetic methods, experiments and computer models, we examine how species are reacting to climate change and how biodiversity patterns are changing.


As a result of climate change, as well as changes in land use by humans, environmental conditions for animals, plants and fungi are changing more rapidly than ever before. Species can either adapt to these changes, migrate to places where the conditions are more favourable for them – or die out in situ. Adaptation happens when species change their characteristics, for instance their tolerance to drought and high temperatures, or their behaviour.


If you want to understand how species will react to future changes in the climate, it is helpful to study mechanisms at a genetic level. How are species like Alpine rock cress (Arabis alpina) adapting to the changing conditions in the Alps? How will Swiss stone pine manage to migrate to habitats which will be more suitable for it in the future than its current ones? Which provenances of tree seeds cope better in a warmer climate?


In order to answer these questions, we use genetic analyses or transplantation and selection experiments for different species. This allows us to explain how species migration occurs and how rapidly adaptations to different environmental conditions take place in the genes.

How can biodiversity patterns be explained?


Over long periods of time, changes in the environment affect evolution, not only at species level but also between species. We study these biodiversity patterns based on global and local data sets, for example on the distribution of bird and tree species under the influence of climate change, and analyse the corresponding evolutionary processes, for example for the entire Alpine flora.


Our research results form the basis for the protection of biodiversity, both at a local and global level.



Tree lines

We are investigating the conditions causing the tree limit to shift.