Rapid microgeographic evolution in response to climate change

David K. Skelly and 1 other contributor

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    Environmental change is predicted to accelerate into the future and will exert strong selection pressure on biota. Although many species may be fated to extinction, others may survive through their capacity to evolve rapidly at highly localized (i.e., microgeographic) scales. Yet, even as new examples have been discovered, the limits to such evolutionary responses have not often been evaluated. One of the first examples of microgeographic variation involved pond populations of wood frogs (Rana sylvatica). Although separated by just tens to hundreds of meters, these populations exhibited countergradient variation in intrinsic embryonic development rates when reared in a common garden. We repeated this experiment 17 years (approximately six to nine generations) later and found that microgeographic variation persists in contemporary populations. Furthermore, we found that contemporary embryos have evolved to develop 14-19% faster than those in 2001. Structural equation models indicate that the predominant cause for this response is likely due to changes in climate over the intervening 17 years. Despite potential for rapid and fine-scale evolution, demographic declines in populations experiencing the greatest changes in climate and habitat imply a limit to the species' ability to mitigate extreme environmental change.