Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Jan.6, 2015 v112 n1 p184-189; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1408589111) / by Carlos A. Botero, et al.
Environmental variation is becoming more frequent and unpredictable as a consequence of climate change, yet we currently lack the tools to evaluate the extent to which organisms may adapt to this phenomenon. Here we develop a model that explores these issues and use it to study how changes in the timescale and predictability of environmental variation may ultimately affect population viability. Our model indicates that, although populations can often cope with fairly large changes in these environmental parameters, on occasion they will collapse abruptly and go extinct. We characterize the conditions under which these evolutionary tipping points occur and discuss how vulnerability to such cryptic threats may depend on the genetic architecture and life history of the organisms involved.