Accounting for population variation improves estimates of the impact of climate change on species’ growth and distribution


  • Gregory A. O’Neill,

    Corresponding author
    1. Research Branch, BC Ministry of Forests and Range, Kalamalka Forestry Centre, 3401 Reservoir Road, Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, V2B 2C7;
    2. College of Science and Management, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada V2N 4Z9;
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  • Andreas Hamann,

    1. University of Alberta, Department of Renewable Resources, 739 General Services Building, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2H1.
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  • Tongli Wang

    1. Centre for Forest Conservation Genetics, Department of Forest Sciences, University of British Columbia, 3041-2424 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T 1Z4; and
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*Correspondence author.


  • 1Large differences exist in the predictions of plant responses to climate change among models that consider population variation and those that do not. Models that treat species as homogeneous entities typically predict net positive impacts of climate change on temperate forest productivity, while most studies that consider adaptive genetic variation within species conclude that the impacts of climate change on forest productivity will be negative.
  • 2We present a modelling approach that predicts plant responses to climate change using both ecological and genetic variables. The model uses growth data from multi-site provenance trials together with climate data for provenance source locations and test sites to predict distribution and productivity of tree populations under climate change. We used an extensive lodgepole pine Pinus contorta provenance data set to illustrate the model.
  • 3Spatially explicit predictions of the impacts of climate change on production were developed and suggested that different populations of lodgepole pine will respond very differently to climate change. Large production losses will be seen in many areas, although modest production increases may occur in some areas by 2085. The model further projects a significant redistribution of the species’ potential habitat northwards and upwards in altitude over the next several decades.
  • 4Synthesis and applications. This study points to the need to consider population differences when modelling biotic responses to climate change, and suggests that climate change will render populations maladapted in many areas. The model also provides a key tool potentially to mitigate climate change impacts by identifying populations expected to be best adapted throughout the next generation of forests. Finally, the study highlights the value of wide-ranging long-term provenance tests in addressing key issues in ecology and climate change.