Natural history collections as windows on evolutionary processes

Michael W. Holmes, Talisin T. Hammond, Guinevere O.U. Wogan, Rachel E. Walsh, Katie Labarbera, Elizabeth A. Wommack, Felipe M. Martins, Jeremy C. Crawford, Katya L. Mack, Luke M. Bloch, Michael W. Nachman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations

Abstract

Natural history collections provide an immense record of biodiversity on Earth. These repositories have traditionally been used to address fundamental questions in biogeography, systematics and conservation. However, they also hold the potential for studying evolution directly. While some of the best direct observations of evolution have come from long-term field studies or from experimental studies in the laboratory, natural history collections are providing new insights into evolutionary change in natural populations. By comparing phenotypic and genotypic changes in populations through time, natural history collections provide a window into evolutionary processes. Recent studies utilizing this approach have revealed some dramatic instances of phenotypic change over short timescales in response to presumably strong selective pressures. In some instances, evolutionary change can be paired with environmental change, providing a context for potential selective forces. Moreover, in a few cases, the genetic basis of phenotypic change is well understood, allowing for insight into adaptive change at multiple levels. These kinds of studies open the door to a wide range of previously intractable questions by enabling the study of evolution through time, analogous to experimental studies in the laboratory, but amenable to a diversity of species over longer timescales in natural populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)864-881
Number of pages18
JournalMolecular ecology
Volume25
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

Keywords

  • environmental change
  • evolution
  • genomics
  • morphology
  • natural history collections
  • phenotypic change

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