Tawny owls

Rapid evolution due to extreme climate events could lead to extinction

Tawny owls (Strix aluco) in Ähtäri Zoo in Finland. Owls across the country are evolving in response to climate change

RJH_IMAGES / Alamy

Evolution normally helps organisms positively adapt to changing circumstances, but climate change may turn that on its head. A model of how some species could rapidly evolve in response to increasingly extreme events, such as storms, has found that mutations could actually drive some small, vulnerable populations to extinction.

This is because traits that help animals or plants that survive extreme events can be a disadvantage in normal situations. “By the next generation, the environment …