J Syst Evol ›› 2020, Vol. 58 ›› Issue (5): 533-545.DOI: 10.1111/jse.12649

• Review • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Plant adaptation to climate change—Where are we?

Jill T. Anderson1†* and Bao-Hua Song2†*   

  1. 1 Department of Genetics, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA
    2 Department of Biological Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC 28223, USA
  • Received:2020-01-15 Accepted:2020-06-11 Online:2020-06-18 Published:2020-09-01


Climate change poses critical challenges for population persistence in natural communities, for agriculture and environmental sustainability, and for food security. In this review, we discuss recent progress in climatic adaptation in plants. We evaluate whether climate change exerts novel selection and disrupts local adaptation, whether gene flow can facilitate adaptive responses to climate change, and whether adaptive phenotypic plasticity could sustain populations in the short term. Furthermore, we discuss how climate change influences species interactions. Through a more in‐depth understanding of these eco‐evolutionary dynamics, we will increase our capacity to predict the adaptive potential of plants under climate change. In addition, we review studies that dissect the genetic basis of plant adaptation to climate change. Finally, we highlight key research gaps, ranging from validating gene function to elucidating molecular mechanisms, expanding research systems from model species to other natural species, testing the fitness consequences of alleles in natural environments, and designing multifactorial studies that more closely reflect the complex and interactive effects of multiple climate change factors. By leveraging interdisciplinary tools (e.g., cutting‐edge omics toolkits, novel ecological strategies, newly developed genome editing technology), researchers can more accurately predict the probability that species can persist through this rapid and intense period of environmental change, as well as cultivate crops to withstand climate change, and conserve biodiversity in natural systems.

Key words: candidate genes, evolutionary potential, genomics, landscape genomics, selection