Genomic models predict successful coral adaptation if future ocean warming rates are reduced

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Science Advances  01 Nov 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 11, e1701413
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701413

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Population genomic surveys suggest that climate-associated genetic variation occurs widely across species, but whether it is sufficient to allow population persistence via evolutionary adaptation has seldom been quantified. To ask whether rapid adaptation in reef-building corals can keep pace with future ocean warming, we measured genetic variation at predicted warm-adapted loci and simulated future evolution and persistence in a high-latitude population of corals from Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Alleles associated with thermal tolerance were present but at low frequencies in this cooler, southerly locality. Simulations based on predicted ocean warming in Rarotonga showed rapid evolution of heat tolerance resulting in population persistence under mild warming scenarios consistent with low CO2 emission plans, RCP2.6 and RCP4.5. Under more severe scenarios, RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, adaptation was not rapid enough to prevent extinction. Population adaptation was faster for models based on smaller numbers of additive loci that determine thermal tolerance and for higher population growth rates. Finally, accelerated migration via transplantation of thermally tolerant individuals (1 to 5%/year) sped adaptation. These results show that cool-water corals can adapt to warmer oceans but only under mild scenarios resulting from international emissions controls. Incorporation of genomic data into models of species response to climate change offers a promising method for estimating future adaptive processes.

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