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Adapt, Move, or Die

Next-generation sequencing can help researchers studying how species are responding to climate change, write San Francisco State University's Jonathon Stillman and Eric Armstrong in BioScience.

There are three ways, they say, that species can react to a changing climate: move, persist, or die. Sequencing, they add, can help ecologists study whether populations are moving or adapting to environmental changes. (Field surveys can easily determine if species' abundance is dwindling.)

To see whether species have moved beyond their historical ranges, researchers can use next-gen sequencing to examine historical samples as well as to see what loci may be under selective pressure as boundaries change. At the same time, sequencing enables researchers to study cryptic genetic diversity and phenotypic plasticity.

So far, Stillman and Armstrong add, next-gen sequencing approaches have given ecologists a finer-scale look at population structure, uncovered instances of local adaptation, and homed on loci that may be adaptive in the face of climate change.

"Never before have scientists been able to generate so many data about the genomes of an organism in such little time," the duo says.