Climate Change Genomics workshop: Vulnerability, adaptations & applications

How can genetic and genomic tools improve our capacity to assess species vulnerability and study adaptations to climate change? Orly Razgour, Tin Hang (Henry) Hung, Regina Kolzenburg, and Brenna Forester report on their international online 3-day workshop held in September 2022.

Climate change is producing a range of new selection pressures, forcing species to shift their ranges to track suitable climates or adapt to changing conditions in order to survive. Despite the importance of genetic diversity for species ability to respond to environmental change, it has been largely overlooked in conservation policy, and genetic/genomic tools remain under-utilized in conservation management. Recent reviews, collaborative networks and initiatives have highlighted the importance of considering genetic diversity and the community of researchers using genetic/genomic tools to study impacts of climate change has been growing, with several new approaches and frameworks developed over the past few years.

The Climate Change Genomics workshop, organised jointly by the British Ecological Society Climate Change Ecology and Ecological Genetics Special Interest Groups, was convened with the goals of discussing methodological developments, evidence, and applications as a research community to foster the development of best practices for applying genetic and genomic tools to climate change research. The workshop brought together international experts, early career researchers, and everyone in between, working across a variety of ecological systems to promote better integration of genomic approaches in both climate change research and biodiversity conservation. Each day of the workshop contained two sessions featuring invited and contributed talks followed by a breakout discussion relevant to the state of the field. The workshop included presentations from 19 invited speakers and 27 submitted presentations, as well as group and panel discussions, and was attended by more than 150 participants from around the world covering research across all continents.

Day 1 of the workshop focused on methods to assess vulnerability to climate change using genomic tools. The workshop opened with an invited talk by Dr Ary Hoffmann, who provided a synthesis of climate change adaptation research in Drosophila, emphasizing the importance and limitations of adaptive potential in response to changing climate, variation in responses across species, and challenges associated with interpreting -omics data. Following on from this, Dr Line Bay presented work on the enhancement of coral reef heat and bleaching tolerance and its application to conventional and active coral reef management. Dr Chris Barratt then discussed the assessment of intraspecific climate change vulnerability through the integration of environmental, ecological and molecular data. In the second session of Day 1, Dr Kristen Ruegg presented on the use of citizen science data, measures of fitness, hindcasting, and analysis of historical genetic samples to validate estimates of genomic offset to improve climate change predictions. Dr Thibaut Capblancq built on this topic with his presentation on modelling the genotype-environment relationship in a climate change context and its value for informing conservation planning. The final invited talk of the day was from Dr Steven Franks who explored genomic responses to drought in the annual plant Brassica rapa and how these responses were revealed by evolve-and-resequence studies in natural and experimental populations.

Participants and attendees joined breakout sessions to discuss frontiers in methods development for assessing climate change vulnerability, as well as best practices for applying these methods. Key discussion points included the importance of developing criteria for validation of climate change projections, accounting for novel environments and uncertainty, and the need for simulation studies and open data sharing.

Day 2 of the workshop focused on evidence of genetic adaptation and responses to climate and climate change. Dr Lesley Lancaster started off the invited talks with a presentation on genetic signatures of rapid range expansion in a model damselfly species. Dr Carla Sgro followed up with a discussion of the complexities of recent genomic and phenotypic evidence for range shifts and climatic adaptation in Drosophila. Next, Dr Jon Bridle presented research on the narrowing of future ecological resilience in a European butterfly due to evolutionary adaptation in response to climate change. Dr Ann-Marie Waldvogel finished out the first session with her talk on the importance of temperature when studying climate adaptation, both in terms of its direct effects on organismal physiology as well as at the level of biochemical processes. The second session began with a talk from Dr Sally Aitken on the genomics of climate adaptation in long-lived conifers, including the importance of assessing the impact of geographic scale on genomic offset predictions of maladaptation. Next, Dr Jorge Ramos presented on population genetic signatures of a recent marine range expansion in Australia. Dr Chris Funk ended the day of invited talks with a presentation on predicting vulnerability to climate change by linking environmental heterogeneity to genetic and phenotypic variation in cold-adapted mountain stream frogs.

Breakout sessions discussed how to move beyond identifying genetic adaptations to climate and toward identifying adaptive responses to climate change in long-lived organisms. The challenges and value of working with historical datasets were noted, along with the critical value of long-term studies. Participants also discussed best practices for evaluating evidence for adaptive responses to climate change through integrating multiple lines of evidence, disentangling plasticity from genetic change, and using high quality, annotated, chromosome-level genomes.

Day 3 wrapped up the workshop with applications of genetic/genomic tools in policy, conservation management and monitoring. Dr Chris Brauer started the day off with a talk on a decade of conservation genomics applications in the recovery of two species of threatened pygmy perches in southeastern Australia. Dr Olivier Broennimann then presented work on prioritizing genomic sampling based on environmental marginality to maximize the detection of locally adapted populations and potential adaptational lag under climate change. Next, Dr Rajeev K. Varshney discussed genomics-assisted breeding for the development of climate change ready and nutrition-dense crops to promote food security in developing countries. In the second session, Dr Sean Hoban talked about the use of genetic indicators and ecogeographic summaries to promote the conservation of genetic diversity and climate change resilience, even in the absence of genetic data. Dr Shawna Zimmerman then presented research on the conservation implications of adaptive divergence in two North American habitat specialists, the greater sage-grouse and white-tailed ptarmigan. Finally, Dr Jessica Wright discussed the use of genomics-informed seed transfer in post-fire reforestation of climate-change impacted landscapes in California.

Each session ended with panel discussions including all of the day’s speakers addressing how to move the field forward to ensure better integration of genomic approaches in climate change research, management and policy. Speakers, participants and attendees also discussed overall best practices for applying climate change genomics. Discussions focused on the importance of long-term adaptive monitoring in applied climate change research, considering societal involvement, including community science, building research jointly with stakeholders, as well as expanding collaboration across disciplines.

The broad engagement with the workshop highlights the growing interest in the emerging field of climate change genomics and the need to develop best practices and to promote translation of research into climate change policy and adaptive conservation management.

For more on Understanding climate change response in the age of genomics, take a look at our Special Feature.

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