Whereas animals can move around, plants and trees are rooted in the ground and must either withstand climate change or perish, noted biologists.

"When climate changes, organisms have three choices: migrate, adapt, or go extinct," said Matt Fitzpatrick of the University of Maryland' Center for Environmental Science's Appalachian Laboratory.

"We are bringing the ability to quantify that adaptation piece that had largely been missing up to this point," Matt added.

Now, biologists have combined genetic analysis with new modeling approaches for the first time to help detect how well balsam poplar trees are adapted to handle climate change. For their study, the biologists sampled the genetic code of 400 trees from 31 locations in northern America and combined the genetic variations with computer modeling techniques.

It was found that some poplar trees have already adapted genetically to handle climate changes expected over the next few decades while others have not.

This type of modeling of variation in genetic makeup represents an important advance in understanding how climate change may impact bio-diversity, explained the biologists.

"We have developed the techniques to associate genetic variation to climate and to map where individuals may and may not be pre-adapted to climates expected in the future. This gives us a way to link climate responses more closely to biology than we were able to do previously," concluded Fitzpatrick.

The study appeared in the journal Ecology Letters.

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