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Evolutionary responses of soil invertebrates to global warming


Can species adapt to climatic changes at a rate that matches the rate of climate change? This question is of fundamental importance for understanding the response of species and communities to current climatic changes and future distribution of biodiversity. The main goal of this project is to study evolutionary responses of soil animals to global warming in a natural field setting. In 2008 an earthquake in S-Iceland caused local changes of geothermal systems. This incidence caused previously “cool” areas within two ecosystems (forest and grassland) to suddenly experience geothermal warming resulting in a ~100 m gradient of soil temperatures from ambient to +50 °C. In addition, nearby grassland also experienced such geothermal warming which has now lasted for about 200 years. These sites provide a unique opportunity to examine if, and at what rate, soil invertebrate species can respond and adapt to rapid global warming in a natural ecosystem.

Soil invertebrates are relatively stationary organisms which has the advantage for this project that gene flow between sub-populations along the thermal gradients is probably not of any great significance. We may therefore ask two main research questions:

  1. Have adaptive evolutionary changes to natural climatic warming occurred over recent (6 years) and historical times (~200 years)?
  2. In which physiological traits are these evolutionary changes manifested?

We collaborate with the international project ForHot and Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.

The project is supported by The Danish Council for Independent Research in the period 2014-2017 

Photo above: Recently changed geothermal systems in S-Iceland has caused warming of soils since 2008 (AU photo)

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Jordfaunaøkologi og økotosikologi
Aarhus Universitet
Institut for Bioscience
Vejlsøvej 25
8600 Silkeborg