1. Many studies have investigated adaptation to climate change. However, the term ‘adaptation’ has been used ambiguously and sometimes included parts of both classic evolutionary processes and conservation planning measures (i.e. human-mediated adaptation).
2. To reduce ambiguity, we define three classes of evolutionary processes involved in adaptation – migrational, novel-variant and plasticity. Migrational adaptation describes the process of redistribution of standing genetic variation among populations. Novel-variant adaptation describes the increase in frequency of beneficial, new genetic variants. Plasticity adaptation refers to adaptive plastic responses of organisms to environmental stressors. Quite separately, human-mediated adaptation aims to maintain these evolutionary processes.
3. Whilst the role of scattered trees in migrational adaptation of fauna may have been neglected in the past, their capacity to assist migrational adaptation of trees has been previously documented. However, their role in novel-variant and plasticity adaptation is generally unrecognised, and warrants further attention.
4. Synthesis and applications. By defining different aspects of adaptation carefully, we show that scattered trees should not be cleared since they may facilitate gene flow across fragmented landscapes. However, they should be avoided as dominant seed sources since their stock may be of poor quality.