How ancient DNA studies can predict the response to climate change in Europe
Projected changes in global temperatures have led to widespread concern about the survival of many mammal species in Europe, with current model-based forecasts predicting high rates of extinction over the next 100 years. However, such predictions are controversial due to uncertainties in how species respond to changes in habitat availability. Central to this problem is the “habitat tracking” hypothesis, which states that populations will respond to changes in habitat availability by altering their distributions accordingly. The alternative, however, is that populations are unable to move to the north when temperatures increase, or vice versa when it gets colder, and that these populations instead become extinct. One way to address this question is to investigate what happened during the last Ice Age, when dramatic changes in temperatures resulted in large-scale changes in the distribution of many species. The CLIMIGRATE project will investigate this by using mathematical models of how habitats changed during the last 40,000 years, combined with ancient DNA analyses on fossil material to examine the extent that these populations were able to move in concert with changes in habitat. The results from these analyses will also allow us to adjust and improve the mathematical models that are currently being used to predict how global warming will affect European mammals over the coming 100 years.
Desired project outcome
Our central aim is to enhance the accuracy of the models used to predict future faunal responses to climate change, by examining how faunal populations reacted to past climate change.