• Open Access

A crucial step toward realism: responses to climate change from an evolving metacommunity perspective


Mark C. Urban, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut 75 North Eagleville Rd., Unit 3043; Storrs, CT 06269, USA.
Tel.: +1 860 486 6113; fax: +1 860 486 6364; e-mail: mark.urban@uconn.edu


We need to understand joint ecological and evolutionary responses to climate change to predict future threats to biological diversity. The ‘evolving metacommunity’ framework emphasizes that interactions between ecological and evolutionary mechanisms at both local and regional scales will drive community dynamics during climate change. Theory suggests that ecological and evolutionary dynamics often interact to produce outcomes different from those predicted based on either mechanism alone. We highlight two of these dynamics: (i) species interactions prevent adaptation of nonresident species to new niches and (ii) resident species adapt to changing climates and thereby prevent colonization by nonresident species. The rate of environmental change, level of genetic variation, source-sink structure, and dispersal rates mediate between these potential outcomes. Future models should evaluate multiple species, species interactions other than competition, and multiple traits. Future experiments should manipulate factors such as genetic variation and dispersal to determine their joint effects on responses to climate change. Currently, we know much more about how climates will change across the globe than about how species will respond to these changes despite the profound effects these changes will have on global biological diversity. Integrating evolving metacommunity perspectives into climate change biology should produce more accurate predictions about future changes to species distributions and extinction threats.