Tropical amphibians in shifting thermal landscapes under land-use and climate change

Conserv Biol. 2017 Feb;31(1):96-105. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12769. Epub 2016 Sep 26.


Land-cover and climate change are both expected to alter species distributions and contribute to future biodiversity loss. However, the combined effects of land-cover and climate change on assemblages, especially at the landscape scale, remain understudied. Lowland tropical amphibians may be particularly susceptible to changes in land cover and climate warming because many species have narrow thermal safety margins resulting from air and body temperatures that are close to their critical thermal maxima (CTmax ). We examined how changing thermal landscapes may alter the area of thermally suitable habitat (TSH) for tropical amphibians. We measured microclimates in 6 land-cover types and CTmax of 16 frog species in lowland northeastern Costa Rica. We used a biophysical model to estimate core body temperatures of frogs exposed to habitat-specific microclimates while accounting for evaporative cooling and behavior. Thermally suitable habitat area was estimated as the portion of the landscape where species CTmax exceeded their habitat-specific maximum body temperatures. We projected changes in TSH area 80 years into the future as a function of land-cover change only, climate change only, and combinations of land-cover and climate-change scenarios representing low and moderate rates of change. Projected decreases in TSH area ranged from 16% under low emissions and reduced forest loss to 30% under moderate emissions and business-as-usual land-cover change. Under a moderate emissions scenario (A1B), climate change alone contributed to 1.7- to 4.5-fold greater losses in TSH area than land-cover change only, suggesting that future decreases in TSH from climate change may outpace structural habitat loss. Forest-restricted species had lower mean CTmax than species that occurred in altered habitats, indicating that thermal tolerances will likely shape assemblages in changing thermal landscapes. In the face of ongoing land-cover and climate change, it will be critical to consider changing thermal landscapes in strategies to conserve ectotherm species.

Keywords: CTmax; cobertura de suelo; ectotermo; ectotherm; fragmentación; fragmentation; land cover; microclima; microclimate; thermal tolerance; tolerancia termal.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Climate Change*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Costa Rica
  • Ecosystem
  • Tropical Climate