Evolutionary potential mitigates extinction risk under climate change in the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher

Brenna R. Forester, Casey C. Day, Kristen Ruegg, Erin L. Landguth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The complexity of global anthropogenic change makes forecasting species responses and planning effective conservation actions challenging. Additionally, important components of a species' adaptive capacity, such as evolutionary potential, are often not included in quantitative risk assessments due to lack of data. While genomic proxies for evolutionary potential in at-risk species are increasingly available, they have not yet been included in extinction risk assessments at a species-wide scale. In this study, we used an individual-based, spatially explicit, dynamic eco-evolutionary simulation model to evaluate the extinction risk of an endangered desert songbird, the southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus), in response to climate change. Using data from long-term demographic and habitat studies in conjunction with genome-wide ecological genomics research, we parameterized simulations that include 418 sites across the breeding range, genomic data from 225 individuals, and climate change forecasts spanning 3 generalized circulation models and 3 emissions scenarios. We evaluated how evolutionary potential, and the lack of it, impacted population trajectories in response to climate change. We then investigated the compounding impact of drought and warming temperatures on extinction risk through the mechanism of increased nest failure. Finally, we evaluated how rapid action to reverse greenhouse gas emissions would influence population responses and species extinction risk. Our results illustrate the value of incorporating evolutionary, demographic, and dispersal processes in a spatially explicit framework to more comprehensively evaluate the extinction risk of threatened and endangered species and conservation actions to promote their recovery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-353
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Heredity
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2023


  • CDMetaPOP
  • computer simulations
  • conservation genomics
  • dynamic eco-evolutionary simulation model
  • Empidonax trailii extimus
  • local adaptation
  • Plant Breeding
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Salix
  • Songbirds/genetics
  • Animals
  • Climate Change
  • Ecosystem
  • Endangered Species


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