Adaptation and evolution

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

As a result of climate change and 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.

For example, how will Swiss stone pine manage to migrate to sites 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 various species. This allows us to explain how species migration occurs and how rapidly adaptation to different environmental conditions takes place.

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.

WSL publications