Plants and animals are remarkably similar in their responses to changing environmental conditions across the globe, research finds.
The study may help explain their current distribution and how they will respond to climate change in the future.
Plants and animals are fundamentally different in many ways, but one of the most obvious is in how they deal with temperature.
“When it gets sunny and hot where they are at a given moment, most animals can simply move to find some shade and cool down,” says lead study author John J. Wiens, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. “Plants on the other hand, have to stay where they are and tolerate these higher temperatures.”
With Hui Liu and Quing Ye from the South China Botanical Garden, Wiens analyzed climatic data from 952 plant species and 1,135 vertebrate species. They included many major groups of flowering plants, from oaks to orchids to grasses, and all major groups of terrestrial vertebrates including frogs, salamanders, lizards, snakes, turtles, crocodilians, birds, and mammals.
The team used climatic data and detailed evolutionary trees to test 10 hypotheses about the temperature and precipitation conditions where each species occurs and how these change over time among species. This set of conditions is also known as the “climatic niche” of each species.
The climatic niche of a species reflects where it can live, Wiens explains—for example, in the tropics versus the temperate zone, or at sea level versus the top of a mountain—and how it will respond to climate change.
A species with a wide climatic niche can range widely across many different conditions and may be especially resilient to climate change. A species with a narrow niche, on the other hand, may have a small distribution and may be especially vulnerable to climate change. Understanding climatic niches is critically important for answering many of the most fundamental and urgent questions in ecology and evolution.
For all 10 hypotheses that the authors tested, they found that plants and animals showed similar patterns of niche evolution. For example, on average, each plant and animal species lives across a similar breadth of environmental conditions. The breadth of conditions that each species lives in also changes in the same way across the globe in both groups, with plant and animal species in tropical regions found in only a narrow range of temperatures and those in temperate zones tolerating a broad range of temperatures. Furthermore, climatic niches of plants and animals change at similar rates over time.
These results can help explain many fundamental patterns in nature. For example, different sets of plant and animal species tend to occur at different elevations, which differ in temperature and precipitation. In the southwestern United States, for example, different elevations are home to different sets of plant and animal species, from low-lying deserts to grasslands to oak woodlands to pine forests to spruce-fir forests at the higher elevations.
“Since each plant and animal species tolerates a similar, limited breadth of climatic conditions—on average—you end up with different sets of both plant and animal species at different elevations along a mountain slope,” Wiens explains.
These findings may also help explain why different sets of species occur in temperate regions and tropical regions in both groups, and why plants and animals tend to have biodiversity hotspots and high species numbers in the same places—for example, the Andes mountains of South America.
The study also suggests how future climate change may affect plant and animal species.
“The finding that plants and animals have similar niche breadths and rates may help explain why local extinctions from climate change have occurred at similar frequencies in plants and animals so far, and why similar levels of species extinction are predicted for both groups in the future,” says Wiens. “Species with broader niches and faster rates may be better able to survive climate change over the next 50 years, and niche breadths and rates are very similar between plants and animals overall.”
Furthermore, the finding that species are adapted to a narrower range of temperatures in the tropics helps explain why a higher frequency of extinctions is predicted there than in the temperate zone, even though warming may be similar or even greater at higher latitudes.
The authors also found that in both plants and animals, species seem to have more difficulty adapting rapidly to hotter temperatures and drier conditions than to cooler and wetter conditions. Therefore, both plants and animals may have a particularly difficult time adapting to increasing temperatures and droughts related to global warming.
The study appears in Nature Ecology and Evolution
Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities
by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon
by Elizabeth Kolbert
Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon
Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats
by Gwynne Dyer
Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon
From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.