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Planning Ahead For Climate Change

While climate change poses a threat in the immediate future to Chinook salmon and other Oregon endangered species, UO paleontology instructor Edward Davis says it’s also important to think about climate change on a much larger time scale, on the order of millions of years. On July 9, Davis will speak at the Eugene Public Library about his work on evolutionary hotspots, areas of habitat where conditions are right for new species to form, and why these areas need protection.

An evolutionary hotspot contains an abundance of “young” species and subspecies — young meaning that they evolved less than 1 million years ago. Davis’ research in Southern California indicates that a hotspot exists near the Tehachapi Mountains about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, and he says this area is a meeting place of several different kinds of habitat, including desert and mountainous terrain. In Oregon, Davis says places like the Klamath Mountains, where valley habitat connects to desert, might also be considered hotspots and important for conservation.

“When you have all those different areas overlapping, it’s ripe for populations to branch off on their own,” Davis says. 

The hotspots are connections between ecological regions, and as climate change progresses, the regions might transform in response to shifting temperatures. Already, researchers at Berkeley have observed small mammals moving farther into the mountains, changing their geographic range in response to climate warming. These kinds of behavior modifications could impact the future evolutionary course of young species like the Sonoma chipmunk and jumping mouse, both found in California. According to an article from the Journal of the Native Plant Society of Oregon, Malheur wirelettuce is a young species native to Oregon, and it is already endangered. 

“When conditions change, species can move, evolve to find new solutions or they can go extinct,” Davis says. “These changes are happening so rapidly that natural adaptation is too slow, and natural movement also seems to be too slow.”

Davis says this is why evolutionary hotspots need protection, and land that fosters new species should be conserved along with habitat for endangered species. 

Davis’ free talk is at 6 pm Tuesday, July 9, at the Eugene Public Library, downtown.