Climate Change's Communal Effects

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Science  25 Nov 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6059, pp. 1033
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6059.1033-a

It is well established that a key ecological effect of changing climate is to alter the distribution of plant and animal species. As climate warms, there is a general tendency for species to move toward higher latitudes and altitudes. However, there are many important nuances to this general effect, as the vagaries of factors such as topography, precipitation, species' individual biology and species interactions all come into play. Hence, ecologists are increasingly focusing on how the composition of ecological communities (assemblages of species) might change (or are already changing) in our warming climate. By using published data on the elevational ranges of lizards, snakes, frogs, dung beetles, rodents, and birds, along with mathematical modeling, Sheldon et al. predict how climate change will affect the composition of animal communities on tropical and temperate mountains. They found that communities on tropical mountains would become disassembled to a greater extent than on temperate mountains, and that disassembly was modulated by dispersal and physiology. Because tropical mountain ecosystems harbor a disproportionately high biodiversity, the greater sensitivity of these particular environments to climate change will pose extra challenges for their conservation.

Ecol. Lett. 14, 1191 (2011).

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