Seasonal and daily climate variation have opposite effects on species elevational range size

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Science  25 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6280, pp. 1437-1439
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab4119

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Variability for a day or a season

Species that experience larger seasonal climatic fluctuations are likely to be more physiologically flexible and thus likely to occur across a wider elevational range. Daily changes in temperature are also common but have rarely been considered. Chan et al. used a global data set of vertebrates to look at how these two different sets of variation affect a species' elevational distribution (see the Perspective by Perez et al.). Unexpectedly, larger daily fluctuations were associated with smaller elevational distributions. Thus, specialists are favored where daily fluctuations are dominant, whereas generalists are favored where seasonal fluctuations are the main climate influence.

Science, this issue p. 1437; see also p. 1392


The climatic variability hypothesis posits that the magnitude of climatic variability increases with latitude, elevation, or both, and that greater variability selects for organisms with broader temperature tolerances, enabling them to be geographically widespread. We tested this classical hypothesis for the elevational range sizes of more than 16,500 terrestrial vertebrates on 180 montane gradients. In support of the hypothesis, mean elevational range size was positively correlated with the scope of seasonal temperature variation, whereas elevational range size was negatively correlated with daily temperature variation among gradients. In accordance with a previous life history model and our extended versions of it, our findings indicate that physiological specialization may be favored under shorter-term climatic variability.

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