Nautilus

This Man Is Genetically Altering Ecosystems to Save Them from Climate Change

On a chilly afternoon last October, at a University of Northern Arizona conference, Thomas Whitham, a plant geneticist, proposed a plan to save hundreds of species from extinction. For the last several years, Whitham said, he and his colleagues had used a series of experimental gardens to study how plants are being affected by warming temperatures—in near real-time—and how their populations might evolve due to climate change.

In these gardens, located in various ecosystems and elevations around the Southwest—from deserts to alpine forests—Whitham planted different genotypes of the same species. This enabled him to identify superior genetic lines, the genotypes that can best handle environmental stresses. The results are the culmination of a thirty-year race against climate change to

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