Global warming, elevational ranges and the vulnerability of tropical biota
Tropical species with narrow elevational ranges may be thermally specialized and vulnerable to global warming. Local studies of distributions along elevational gradients reveal small-scale patterns but do not allow generalizations among geographic regions or taxa. We critically assessed data from 249 studies of species elevational distributions in the American, African, and Asia-Pacific tropics. Of these, 150 had sufficient data quality, sampling intensity, elevational range, and freedom from serious habitat disturbance to permit robust across-study comparisons. We found four main patterns: (1) species classified as elevational specialists (upper- or lower-zone specialists) are relatively more frequent in the American than Asia-Pacific tropics, with African tropics being intermediate; (2) elevational specialists are rare on islands, especially oceanic and smaller continental islands, largely due to a paucity of upper-zone specialists; (3) a relatively high proportion of plants and ectothermic vertebrates (amphibians and reptiles) are upper-zone specialists; and (4) relatively few endothermic vertebrates (birds and mammals) are upper-zone specialists. Understanding these broad-scale trends will help identify taxa and geographic regions vulnerable to global warming and highlight future research priorities. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.