Matching species traits to projected threats and opportunities from climate change

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Climate change can lead to decreased climatic suitability within species' distributions, increased fragmentation of climatically suitable space, and/or emergence of newly suitable areas outside present distributions. Each of these extrinsic threats and opportunities potentially interacts with specific intrinsic traits of species, yet this specificity is seldom considered in risk assessments. We present an analytical framework for examining projections of climate change-induced threats and opportunities with reference to traits that are likely to mediate species' responses, and illustrate the applicability of the framework.

Sub-Saharan Africa.

We applied the framework to 195 sub-Saharan African amphibians with both available bioclimatic envelope model projections for the mid-21st century and trait data. Excluded were 500 narrow-ranging species mainly from montane areas. For each of projected losses, increased fragmentation and gains of climate space, we selected potential response-mediating traits and examined the spatial overlap with vulnerability due to these traits. We examined the overlap for all species, and individually for groups of species with different combinations of threats and opportunities.

In the Congo Basin and arid Southern Africa, projected losses for wide-ranging amphibians were compounded by sensitivity to climatic variation, and expected gains were precluded by poor dispersal ability. The spatial overlap between exposure and vulnerability was more pronounced for species projected to have their climate space contracting in situ or shifting to distant geographical areas. Our results exclude the potential exposure of narrow-ranging species to shrinking climates in the African tropical mountains.

Main conclusions
We illustrate the application of a framework combining spatial projections of climate change exposure with traits that are likely to mediate species' responses. Although the proposed framework carries several assumptions that require further scrutiny, its application adds a degree of realism to familiar assessments that consider all species to be equally affected by climate change-induced threats and opportunities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)724-735
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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