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Keywords:

  • adaptation;
  • climate change;
  • egg hatch;
  • fitness;
  • genetic variation;
  • heritability;
  • Operophtera brumata;
  • predictive model;
  • Quercus robur;
  • synchrony

Abstract

Climate change has led to an advance in phenology in many species. Synchrony in phenology between different species within a food chain may be disrupted if an increase in temperature affects the phenology of the different species differently, as is the case in the winter moth egg hatch–oak bud burst system. Operophtera brumata (winter moth) egg hatch date has advanced more than Quercus robur (pedunculate oak) bud burst date over the past two decades. Disrupted synchrony will lead to selection, and a response in phenology to this selection may lead to species genetically adapting to their changing environment. However, a prerequisite for such genetic change is that there is sufficient genetic variation and severe enough fitness consequences. So far, examples of observed genetic change have been few. Using a half-sib design, we demonstrate here that O. brumata egg-hatching reaction norm is heritable, and that genetic variation exists. Fitness consequences of even a few days difference between egg hatch and tree bud opening are severe, as we experimentally determined. Estimates of genetic variation and of fitness were then combined with a climate scenario to predict the rate and the amount of change in the eggs' response to temperature. We predict a rapid response to selection, leading to a restoration of synchrony of egg hatch with Q. robur bud opening. This study shows that in this case there is a clear potential to adapt – rapidly – to environmental change. The current observed asynchrony is therefore not due to a lack of genetic variation and at present it is unclear what is constraining O. brumata to adapt. This kind of model may be particularly useful in gaining insight in the predicted amount and rate of change due to environmental changes, given a certain genetic variation and selection pressure.