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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2013 Jan 19;368(1610):20120090. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2012.0090.

Evolutionary rescue in vertebrates: evidence, applications and uncertainty.

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Département de biologie, Université de Sherbrooke, 2500 boul. de l'Université, Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada.


The current rapid rate of human-driven environmental change presents wild populations with novel conditions and stresses. Theory and experimental evidence for evolutionary rescue present a promising case for species facing environmental change persisting via adaptation. Here, we assess the potential for evolutionary rescue in wild vertebrates. Available information on evolutionary rescue was rare and restricted to abundant and highly fecund species that faced severe intentional anthropogenic selective pressures. However, examples from adaptive tracking in common species and genetic rescues in species of conservation concern provide convincing evidence in favour of the mechanisms of evolutionary rescue. We conclude that low population size, long generation times and limited genetic variability will result in evolutionary rescue occurring rarely for endangered species without intervention. Owing to the risks presented by current environmental change and the possibility of evolutionary rescue in nature, we suggest means to study evolutionary rescue by mapping genotype → phenotype → demography → fitness relationships, and priorities for applying evolutionary rescue to wild populations.

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