Global warming, elevational ranges and the vulnerability of tropical biota

Laurance W.F. ; Carolina Useche D. ; Shoo L.P. ; Herzog S.K. ; Kessler M. ; Escobar F. ; Brehm G. ; Axmacher J.C. ; Chen I.-C. ; Gamez L.A. ; Hietz P. ; Fiedler K. ; Pyrcz T. ; Wolf J. ; Merkord C.L. ; Cardelus C. ; Marshall A.R. ; Ah-Peng C. ; Aplet G.H. ; del Coro Arizmendi M. ; Baker W.J. ; Barone J. ; Bruhl C.A. ; Bussmann R.W. ; Cicuzza D. ; Eilu G. ; Favila M.E. ; Hemp A. ; Hemp C. ; Homeier J. ; Hurtado J. ; Jankowski J. ; Kattan G. ; Kluge J. ; Kromer T. ; Lees D.C. ; Lehnert M. ; Longino J.T. ; Lovett J. ; Martin P.H. ; Patterson B.D. ; Pearson R.G. ; Peh K.S.-H. ; Richardson B. ; Richardson M. ; Samways M.J. ; Senbeta F. ; Smith T.B. ; Utteridge T.M.A. ; Watkins J.E. ; Wilson R. ; Williams S.E. ; Thomas C.D. (2011)


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.

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