Global metabolic impacts of recent climate warming

Nature. 2010 Oct 7;467(7316):704-6. doi: 10.1038/nature09407.


Documented shifts in geographical ranges, seasonal phenology, community interactions, genetics and extinctions have been attributed to recent global warming. Many such biotic shifts have been detected at mid- to high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere-a latitudinal pattern that is expected because warming is fastest in these regions. In contrast, shifts in tropical regions are expected to be less marked because warming is less pronounced there. However, biotic impacts of warming are mediated through physiology, and metabolic rate, which is a fundamental measure of physiological activity and ecological impact, increases exponentially rather than linearly with temperature in ectotherms. Therefore, tropical ectotherms (with warm baseline temperatures) should experience larger absolute shifts in metabolic rate than the magnitude of tropical temperature change itself would suggest, but the impact of climate warming on metabolic rate has never been quantified on a global scale. Here we show that estimated changes in terrestrial metabolic rates in the tropics are large, are equivalent in magnitude to those in the north temperate-zone regions, and are in fact far greater than those in the Arctic, even though tropical temperature change has been relatively small. Because of temperature's nonlinear effects on metabolism, tropical organisms, which constitute much of Earth's biodiversity, should be profoundly affected by recent and projected climate warming.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Weight
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Geography*
  • Global Warming / statistics & numerical data*
  • Internationality
  • Seasons
  • Temperature*
  • Tropical Climate