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Evolution and Climate Change in the Oceans (ECCO)

The first ECCO workshop, held on May 7-10 2010, addressed the issue of adaptation and evolution in marine organisms in response to global change. A report was presented to the U.S. National Science Foundation in December 2010. Our current plan for 2011-2012 is to build upon and extend the productive discussions the first ECCO workshop.

How marine biology will react to ongoing global change-driven chemical and physical alterations in the marine environment is presently uncertain.  It is clear, though, that biological evolution (adaptation) as well as other processes such as phenotypic plasticity and epigenetics are potential responses to global change.  These processes are not well understood in marine systems, but could be crucial because they can prevent extirpation or local extinction of marine biota.

 The role of adaptation in rapidly changing marine ecosystems thus urgently needs consideration.  However, most oceanographers are not experts in evolutionary biology and theory, and vice versa.  To address this question and begin to bridge this disciplinary gap, we (David Hutchins and Gretchen Hofmann) convened an NSF-supported catalytic workshop in October 2009 at NESCent.  At this workshop 15 invited experts in marine science  and/or evolutionary biology (our Steering Committee) identified a set of discussion priorities to be addressed at a subsequent larger, interdisciplinary community forum. These included:

  • Can evolutionary theory help predict how marine organisms will react to global change?
  • What are the critical rates of environmental change for different taxa and different environments?
  • What are the limits to phenotypic plasticity and what is its relationship to long-term evolution?
  • How do the many complex, co-occurring environmental factors that will typify climate change in the oceans interact to determine fitness?
  • How can we interpret marine genomes in light of evolutionary theories with regard to climate change?  
  • Can we use evolutionary theory to predict consequences for complex, dynamic systems?  
  • Does evolution contribute to buffering ecosystem responses to environmental changes? 

This initial catalytic activity was followed an NSF-supported workshop of about 50 invited participants, held at the USC Wrigley Institute conference facility on Catalina Island on May 7-10 of 2010 that addressed these open questions.  This workshop examined the current concerns of the ocean science community about impacts of global change on marine biology, and crafted recommendations about how we could begin to incorporate basic principles of evolutionary biology into our understanding of these processes.  The co-PIs on the core steering committee, the original larger catalytic committee, and invited Catalina workshop participants consisted of experts in ocean global change biogeochemistry and biology, organismal physiology, and also recognized authorities in evolutionary biology.  Ways to address these almost untouched questions were explored at many levels, ranging from modern genomics and proteomics approaches to laboratory and field experimentation and observation and quantitative biological and biogeochemical modeling.  



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