Long-distance gene flow and adaptation of forest trees to rapid climate change

Antoine Kremer*, Ophélie Ronce, Juan J. Robledo-Arnuncio, Frédéric Guillaume, Gil Bohrer, Ran Nathan, Jon R. Bridle, Richard Gomulkiewicz, Etienne K. Klein, Kermit Ritland, Anna Kuparinen, Sophie Gerber, Silvio Schueler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

469 Scopus citations


Forest trees are the dominant species in many parts of the world and predicting how they might respond to climate change is a vital global concern. Trees are capable of long-distance gene flow, which can promote adaptive evolution in novel environments by increasing genetic variation for fitness. It is unclear, however, if this can compensate for maladaptive effects of gene flow and for the long-generation times of trees. We critically review data on the extent of long-distance gene flow and summarise theory that allows us to predict evolutionary responses of trees to climate change. Estimates of long-distance gene flow based both on direct observations and on genetic methods provide evidence that genes can move over spatial scales larger than habitat shifts predicted under climate change within one generation. Both theoretical and empirical data suggest that the positive effects of gene flow on adaptation may dominate in many instances. The balance of positive to negative consequences of gene flow may, however, differ for leading edge, core and rear sections of forest distributions. We propose future experimental and theoretical research that would better integrate dispersal biology with evolutionary quantitative genetics and improve predictions of tree responses to climate change.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)378-392
Number of pages15
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • Adaptation
  • Climate change
  • Forest trees
  • Gene flow
  • Selection


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