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Staying in situ or shifting range under ongoing climate change: A case of an endemic herb in the Himalaya-Hengduan Mountains across elevational gradients

Cite this dataset

Lin, Nan et al. (2023). Staying in situ or shifting range under ongoing climate change: A case of an endemic herb in the Himalaya-Hengduan Mountains across elevational gradients [Dataset]. Dryad.


Aim: How species respond to ongoing climate change has been a hot research topic, especially with the controversy in shifting range (movement) or persisting in local habitat (in situ) as the primary response. Assessing the relative roles of range shifts, phenotypic plasticity and genetic adaptation helps us predict the evolutionary fate of species. We aim to explore the evolutionary strategies of plants under climate change from a keystone herb in alpine ecosystems, Mirabilis himalaica, along its elevational gradient.

Location: Himalaya-Hengduan Mountains, China.

Methods: We combined evidence from population genomics and ecological data in both space and time to investigate the state of “staying” or “moving”. We identified migration events by assessing historical and contemporary gene flow, and changes in species distribution. Morphological variation was compared by measuring five traits using specimen data. Moreover, we explored climate-driven genetic variation and local selection regimes acting on populations in the alpine landscape along an elevational gradient.

Results: Our results argue that staying in situ by morphological variation and local genetic evolution rather than range shifting plays an important role in M. himalaica response to climate change. We first found trace evidence of upward or climatic-driven shifting along an elevational gradient, although asymmetric gene flow was restricted within microenvironments of mid-elevational populations. Furthermore, morphological variation comparisons revealed clinal variation, as resource allocation showed a declining pattern in vegetative growth but increased reproductive growth with increasing elevation. Outlier tests and environment association analyses indicated adaptative loci primarily related to thermal-driven selection and continuous adaptations to high elevation in the Himalaya-Hengduan Mountains.

Main conclusions: Our findings show M. himalaica may persist in local habitats rather than shifting range under climate change, exhibiting a low risk of genomic vulnerability in current habitats. This study has important implications for improving our understanding of the evolutionary response in alpine plants to climate change.


Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research (STEP) program, Award: 2019QZKK0502

Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Award: XDA20050203

Key Projects of the Joint Fund of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: U1802232

Youth Innovation Promotion Association, Award: 2019382

Yunnan Young & Elite Talents Project, Award: YNWR-QNBJ-2019-033

International Partnership Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Award: 151853KYSB20180009

Major Program for Basic Research Project of Yunnan Province, Award: 202101BC070002)

Young Academic and Technical Leader Raising Foundation of Yunnan Province, Award: 2019HB039

Chinese Academy of Sciences “Light of West China” Program