Management-driven evolution in a domesticated ecosystem
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Millennia of human land-use have resulted in the widespread occurrence of what have been coined ‘domesticated ecosystems’. The anthropogenic imprints on diversity, composition, structure and functioning of such systems are well documented. However, evolutionary consequences of human activities in these ecosystems are enigmatic. Calluna vulgaris (L.) is a keystone species of coastal heathlands in northwest Europe, an ancient semi-natural landscape of considerable conservation interest. Like many species from naturally fire-prone ecosystems, Calluna shows smoke-adapted germination, but it is unclear whether this trait arose prior to the development of these semi-natural landscapes or is an evolutionary response to the anthropogenic fire regime. We show that smoke-induced germination in Calluna is found in populations from traditionally burnt coastal heathlands but is lacking in naturally occurring populations from other habitats with infrequent natural fires. Our study thus demonstrates evolutionary imprints of human land-use in semi-natural ecosystems. Evolutionary consequences of historic anthropogenic impacts on wildlife have been understudied, but understanding these consequences is necessary for informed conservation and ecosystem management.