Some like it hot: Tropical species 'not as vulnerable' to climate change extinction

Aug 16, 2012

In the face of a changing climate many species must adapt or perish. Ecologists studying evolutionary responses to climate change forecast that cold-blooded tropical species are not as vulnerable to extinction as previously thought. The study, published in the British Ecological Society's Functional Ecology, considers how fast species can evolve and adapt to compensate for a rise in temperature.

The research, carried out at the University of Zurich, was led by Dr Richard Walters, now at Reading University, alongside David Berger now at Uppsala University and Wolf Blanckenhorn, Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at Zurich.

"Forecasting the fate of any species is difficult, but it is essential for conserving biodiversity and managing natural resources," said lead author Dr Walters. "It is believed that poses a greater risk to tropical cold-blooded organisms (ectotherms), than temperate or polar species. However, as potential adaptation to climate change has not been considered in previous extinction models we tested this theory with a model forecasting evolutionary responses."

Ectotherms, such as and insects, have evolved a specialist physiology to flourish in a stable tropical environment. Unlike species which live in varied habitats tropical species operate within a narrow range of temperatures, leading to increased dangers if those temperatures change.

"When its environment changes an organism can respond by moving away, adapting its physiology over time or, over generations, evolving," said Walters. "The first two responses are easy to identify, but a species' ability to adapt quick enough to respond to climate change is an important and unresolved question for ecologists."

The team explored the idea that there are also evolutionary advantages for species adapted to warmer environments. The 'hotter is better' theory suggests that species which live in will have higher fitness, resulting from a shorter generation time. This may allow them to evolve relatively quicker than species in temperate environments.

The team sought to directly compare the increased risk of extinction associated with lower genetic variance, owing to temperature specialisation, with the lowered risk of extinction associated with a shorter generation time.

"Our model shows that the evolutionary advantage of a shorter generation time should compensate species which are adapted to narrow temperature ranges," said Walters. "We forecast that the relative risk of extinction is likely to be lower for tropical species than temperate ones."

"The tropics are home to the greatest biodiversity on earth, so it imperative that the risk of caused by climate change is understood," concluded Walters. "While many questions remain, our theoretical predictions suggest may not be as vulnerable to climate warming as previously thought."

Explore further: 22 elephants poached in Mozambique in two weeks

More information: Walters.R, Blanckenhorn. W, Berger. D, “Forecasting extinction risk of ectotherms under climate warming: an evolutionary perspective”, Functional Ecology, August 2012, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2012.02045.x

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Global Warming Increases Species Extinctions Worldwide

Nov 15, 2006

Global warming has already caused extinctions in the most sensitive habitats and will continue to cause more species to go extinct over the next 50 to 100 years, confirms the most comprehensive study since 2003 on the effects ...

Stable temperatures boost biodiversity in tropical mountains

Jun 08, 2011

We often think of rainforests and coral reefs as hotspots for biodiversity, but mountains are treasure troves for species too -- especially in the tropics, scientists say. But what drives montane biodiversity? The diversity ...

Biodiversity can promote survival on a warming planet

Nov 04, 2011

Whether a species can evolve to survive climate change may depend on the biodiversity of its ecological community, according to a new mathematical model that simulates the effect of climate change on plants ...

Recommended for you

22 elephants poached in Mozambique in two weeks

3 hours ago

Poachers slaughtered 22 elephants in Mozambique in the first two weeks of September, environmentalists said Monday, warning that killing for ivory by organised syndicates was being carried out on an "industrialised" ...

Pakistan releases smuggled turtles into the wild

8 hours ago

Pakistani officials and environmentalists on Monday released some 200 rare turtles into the River Indus after the reptiles were retrieved from a southwestern Chinese town where they were seized by customs ...

Big science from small insects

14 hours ago

Anniversaries are often a time to look back. But after taking stock of the past, it can be just as important to look to the future.

Dwindling wind may tip predator-prey balance

Sep 19, 2014

Bent and tossed by the wind, a field of soybean plants presents a challenge for an Asian lady beetle on the hunt for aphids. But what if the air—and the soybeans—were still?

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Doug_Huffman
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2012
Uh oh. "Survival of the fittest" enters, stage left.
nappy
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2012
models, unless they take into consideration ALL variables, properly allocated and related, are simply the playthings of academentia.