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Genetic advances are unearthing critical information about how plants and animals adapt – or not – to climate change. Back this project, and we’ll show you how genetic research could remake biodiversity conservation in a warming world.

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*This project is live and producing stories.
★ DOUBLE YOUR IMPACT ★ A backer will match every dollar you pledge, up to $5,000 in total.

When you subscribe, you’ll get:

Two field-reported, longform magazine features and photo essays exploring vital research and its applications, and introducing you to scientists who are passionate about our planet’s biodiversity.

Stories every other week, including coverage of new scientific studies, “Species Spotlight” profiles of fascinating plants and animals, Ask a Scientist Q & As, and reporter’s notebook essays.

Occasional discussions on Beacon forums with us and scientists.

Exclusive access to a wrap-up discussion to close out the project with us and scientists asking the question: Will humans be able to evolve – not genetically, but behaviorally – in ways that create resilience for our own species and others?

Access to every story, by every writer on Beacon.

Climate change is here and we’re stuck with it.

Life on earth is already responding to the new, warmer normal. Trees are dying, or slowing creeping uphill toward cooler climes. Animals are abandoning their old neighborhoods and colonizing new ones. Fish and the tiny aquatic organisms they eat are trying to adjust not only to warmer rivers and oceans, but to carbon saturated waterways whose chemistry is shifting rapidly. Not all of them will survive.

Which species will persist, which won’t, and how ecosystems will change as a result is incredibly hard to predict. But it’s getting easier.


Genetic sequencing is giving us a better window on which species are equipped to survive in a changing climate — and which may not weather the threats.

Increasingly sophisticated technology is giving scientists new opportunities to see evolution in action. By sequencing the genomes of plants and animals, they’re beginning to see how genetically equipped they are to weather the chaotic climate.

“By warming the world, we’re in essence conducting a global-scale experiment in evolution,” systems biologist Michael White wrote recently, “causing massive genetic changes as species adapt, invade a new niche, or head toward extinction.”

When we talk about the ability of plants and animals to adapt, we are really talking about whether they can evolve quickly enough to keep pace with global warming. Just as importantly, we need to know what humans can do to maximize their “evolutionary potential” – to give them better odds of survival.

Our stories will reveal what exciting new genetic research is teaching us about how nature works, and how this knowledge can shape radically new approaches to conservation.

For instance, long-term research on cottonwoods, a tree species that defines rivers in the American West, is suggesting that our current approach to species conservation – protecting the rare ones – could be less effective than we hoped. Genetic diversity in common plants and animals may be even more important to biodiversity.


The cottonwood tree was the first to have its genome sequenced, which has allowed scientists to discover genes that have a role in shaping an entire ecosystem.

Scientists have discovered that cottonwoods in the same forest, but with different genetic makeups, or genotypes, support distinct groups of insects in their canopies, and different microbial and fungal communities in the soils around them. These differences have a bottom-up influence on the other plants and animals that exist in that ecosystem. The cottonwood was the first tree to have its genome sequenced, and scientists have identified key genes that are especially influential in shaping the whole ecosystem. It’s raised the question: Should we begin to prioritize the preservation of genetic diversity in common plants and animals?

The techniques and discoveries of the cottonwood research are now being applied to a range of species with the hope of identifying plant genotypes most fit for the future in different environments. The knowledge gained could prove critical to assisted migration – moving species from their old habitats to new ones – should we decide to attempt it.

This is just one example of how scientists are attempting to answer big questions, like: What will intelligent intervention look like in the future? How can we conserve the diversity and functionality of the systems we have now?

Help us report on their important quest.

Your contributions will help us:

— Travel to report at least two, in-depth feature stories.

— Hire professional photographers to illustrate our stories.

— Buy us days and weeks in the office to report and write shorter features on topics such as:

  • Research to identify “genetic hotspots” on the landscape where rapid evolution is most possible, and efforts to protect them.

  • Experimental evolution in the lab and in the “real” world.

  • Species like the Yosemite chipmunk that are losing genetic diversity, and what that loss portends for their survival.

  • The emerging field of landscape genomics.

  • Genetic research to inform assisted migration of timber species that are vital to the economy of British Columbia.

  • Research into basic questions of evolution, like: How is new biodiversity created?

  • Hopeful discoveries about the adaptability of organisms to ocean acidification.

— Hire a professional editor to help us make our stories sing.


Sarah Jane Keller and Cally Carswell

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Plus 5 others who want to read stories about The Genetics of Climate Change

Thank you for getting us to 100%! We couldn't have done it without you.

July 31 at 10:27 pm

Hi everyone,

Thanks to you, we are thrilled to announce that we met our goal — before our deadline even! We are so grateful for and inspired by your support, and can’t wait to begin our reporting.

Stay tuned for an introductory story in August, and more starting in September.

Cheers to you for helping to bring more great environmental reporting into the world!


Cally and Sarah

3 days to go!

July 28 at 9:31 pm

Hi everyone,

Thanks to your support, we’re incredibly close to bringing you stories about The Genetics of Climate Change. With 3 days left in the campaign, we are nearly 85% funded.

We just need a little more help to make it through this last sprint!

If you could share the project page (http://www.beaconreader.com/projects/the-genetics-of-climate-change) with just two other interested family members or friends via email or direct message, we can meet our goal. Email is most effective, but if that’s not your style, please share it via social media.

Thanks again and we look forward to sharing our work with you!


Cally and Sarah

7 days left!

July 24 at 8:41 pm

Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for your continued support of The Genetics of Climate Change. We can’t wait to report back on breakthroughs in genetic research that will allow us to make more intelligent decisions about how to help plants and animals weather the huge changes ahead.

But we can’t do it without your help! If you could share the project page (http://www.beaconreader.com/projects/the-genetics-of-climate-change) with just two other interested family members or friends via email or direct message, we can meet our goal.

Thanks again and we look forward to sharing our work with you!


Cally and Sarah

A new reward

July 21 at 2:09 am

Hi everyone,

We’re excited to let you know that Benita Keller, a fine art photographer and Sarah’s mother, is offering a signed 8 x 10 print from Yellowstone National Park for anyone subscribing to our project at the $30 level and above.

If you’ve already subscribed at that level, you’ll have a choice of one of two photos if our campaign is successful.

Thank you again for your support!


Cally and Sarah

We are more than halfway there!

July 18 at 5:51 pm

Hi everyone,

Wow, we are off to such a great start as we are just past $5,000. We really appreciate all the support and kind words.

As we continue the momentum on the campaign, it would help so much if you could share the project page (http://www.beaconreader.com/projects/the-genetics-of-climate-change) with interested family and friends so we can meet our goal. A little help goes a long way and the more you share, the more people can find out about The Genetics of Climate Change.

We’ll be in touch throughout the next month and can’t wait to share our work with you!


Cally and Sarah

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Thank you for your generous support! In addition to a yearly subscription, you’ll get a framed drawing by contemporary artist Rodney Carswell, who has exhibited at museums and galleries throughout the U.S. His work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Albright Knox Gallery, and the Illinois State Art Museum. Devening Projects and Thomas McCormick Gallery in Chicago represent his work. Drawing are ink and gouache on archival paper, 15” x 15”. Donor can choose among 5 drawings.
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Cally Carswell and Sarah Keller BIOGRAPHY

Cally Carswell is an independent writer, editor and radio reporter based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is a contributing editor at High Country News, where she writes frequently on the intersection of climate science, ecology and land management. She is a 2014 fellow of the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting, the winner of two first-place Top of the Rockies awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, and was part of the reporting team that won the National Association of Science Writers’ Science in Society Award and the Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism for their coverage of long-distance animal migration.

Sarah Jane Keller is a journalist with an academic background in ecology and climate science. She likes to tell deeply reported stories that help people discover both the delightful and darker corners of the world. She earned a graduate certificate in science journalism from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has written for Wired.com, New Scientist, ScienceNOW, Conservation Magazine, and High Country News, where she is a correspondent. She works from the Rocky Mountains in Montana, which is a great place to have adventures in rapidly changing ecosystems.

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Stories about The Genetics of Climate Change need to be told

Help Cally Carswell and Sarah Keller bring them to BEACON. At $10,000, Cally Carswell and Sarah Keller can provide sustainable reporting on the topic you won't get anywhere else.

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