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Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change

Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics

Annual Reviews

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      Abstract

      Ecological changes in the phenology and distribution of plants and animals are occurring in all well-studied marine, freshwater, and terrestrial groups. These observed changes are heavily biased in the directions predicted from global warming and have been linked to local or regional climate change through correlations between climate and biological variation, field and laboratory experiments, and physiological research. Range-restricted species, particularly polar and mountaintop species, show severe range contractions and have been the first groups in which entire species have gone extinct due to recent climate change. Tropical coral reefs and amphibians have been most negatively affected. Predator-prey and plant-insect interactions have been disrupted when interacting species have responded differently to warming. Evolutionary adaptations to warmer conditions have occurred in the interiors of species' ranges, and resource use and dispersal have evolved rapidly at expanding range margins. Observed genetic shifts modulate local effects of climate change, but there is little evidence that they will mitigate negative effects at the species level.

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      A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems.

      Causal attribution of recent biological trends to climate change is complicated because non-climatic influences dominate local, short-term biological changes. Any underlying signal from climate change is likely to be revealed by analyses that seek systematic trends across diverse species and geographic regions; however, debates within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reveal several definitions of a 'systematic trend'. Here, we explore these differences, apply diverse analyses to more than 1,700 species, and show that recent biological trends match climate change predictions. Global meta-analyses documented significant range shifts averaging 6.1 km per decade towards the poles (or metres per decade upward), and significant mean advancement of spring events by 2.3 days per decade. We define a diagnostic fingerprint of temporal and spatial 'sign-switching' responses uniquely predicted by twentieth century climate trends. Among appropriate long-term/large-scale/multi-species data sets, this diagnostic fingerprint was found for 279 species. This suite of analyses generates 'very high confidence' (as laid down by the IPCC) that climate change is already affecting living systems.
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        Ecological responses to recent climate change.

        There is now ample evidence of the ecological impacts of recent climate change, from polar terrestrial to tropical marine environments. The responses of both flora and fauna span an array of ecosystems and organizational hierarchies, from the species to the community levels. Despite continued uncertainty as to community and ecosystem trajectories under global change, our review exposes a coherent pattern of ecological change across systems. Although we are only at an early stage in the projected trends of global warming, ecological responses to recent climate change are already clearly visible.
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          Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants.

          Over the past 100 years, the global average temperature has increased by approximately 0.6 degrees C and is projected to continue to rise at a rapid rate. Although species have responded to climatic changes throughout their evolutionary history, a primary concern for wild species and their ecosystems is this rapid rate of change. We gathered information on species and global warming from 143 studies for our meta-analyses. These analyses reveal a consistent temperature-related shift, or 'fingerprint', in species ranging from molluscs to mammals and from grasses to trees. Indeed, more than 80% of the species that show changes are shifting in the direction expected on the basis of known physiological constraints of species. Consequently, the balance of evidence from these studies strongly suggests that a significant impact of global warming is already discernible in animal and plant populations. The synergism of rapid temperature rise and other stresses, in particular habitat destruction, could easily disrupt the connectedness among species and lead to a reformulation of species communities, reflecting differential changes in species, and to numerous extirpations and possibly extinctions.
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            Author and article information

            Journal
            Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
            Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst.
            Annual Reviews
            1543-592X
            1545-2069
            December 2006
            December 2006
            : 37
            : 1
            : 637-669
            10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.37.091305.110100
            © 2006

            Evolutionary Biology

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