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Keywords:

  • day length;
  • evolution;
  • genetic response;
  • global warming;
  • photoperiodism;
  • seasonal timing

Abstract

The primary nonbiological result of recent rapid climate change is warming winter temperatures, particularly at northern latitudes, leading to longer growing seasons and new seasonal exigencies and opportunities. Biological responses reflect selection due to the earlier arrival of spring, the later arrival of fall, or the increasing length of the growing season. Animals from rotifers to rodents use the high reliability of day length to time the seasonal transitions in their life histories that are crucial to fitness in temperate and polar environments: when to begin developing in the spring, when to reproduce, when to enter dormancy or when to migrate, thereby exploiting favourable temperatures and avoiding unfavourable temperatures. In documented cases of evolutionary (genetic) response to recent, rapid climate change, the role of day length (photoperiodism) ranges from causal to inhibitory; in no case has there been demonstrated a genetic shift in thermal optima or thermal tolerance. More effort should be made to explore the role of photoperiodism in genetic responses to climate change and to rule out the role of photoperiod in the timing of seasonal life histories before thermal adaptation is assumed to be the major evolutionary response to climate change.