Rates of projected climate change dramatically exceed past rates of climatic niche evolution among vertebrate species

Ecol Lett. 2013 Aug;16(8):1095-103. doi: 10.1111/ele.12144. Epub 2013 Jun 26.


A key question in predicting responses to anthropogenic climate change is: how quickly can species adapt to different climatic conditions? Here, we take a phylogenetic approach to this question. We use 17 time-calibrated phylogenies representing the major tetrapod clades (amphibians, birds, crocodilians, mammals, squamates, turtles) and climatic data from distributions of > 500 extant species. We estimate rates of change based on differences in climatic variables between sister species and estimated times of their splitting. We compare these rates to predicted rates of climate change from 2000 to 2100. Our results are striking: matching projected changes for 2100 would require rates of niche evolution that are > 10,000 times faster than rates typically observed among species, for most variables and clades. Despite many caveats, our results suggest that adaptation to projected changes in the next 100 years would require rates that are largely unprecedented based on observed rates among vertebrate species.

Keywords: Adaptation; climate change; extinction; niche evolution; vertebrates.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Climate
  • Climate Change*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Biological
  • Phylogeny
  • Vertebrates / physiology*