Physiological constraints on organismal response to global warming: mechanistic insights from clinally varying populations and implications for assessing endangerment
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Recent syntheses indicate that global warming affects diverse biological processes, but also highlight the potential for some species to adapt behaviourally or evolutionarily to rapid climate change. Far less attention has addressed the alternative, that organisms lacking this ability may face extinction, a fate projected to befall one-quarter of global biodiversity. This conclusion is controversial, in part because there exist few mechanistic studies that show how climate change could precipitate extinction. We provide a concrete, mechanistic example of warming as a stressor of organisms that are closely adapted to cool climates from a comparative analysis of organismal tolerance among clinally varying populations along a natural thermal gradient. We found that two montane salamanders exhibit significant metabolic depression at temperatures within the natural thermal range experienced by low and middle elevation populations. Moreover, the magnitude of depression was inversely related to native elevation, suggesting that low elevation populations are already living near the limit of their physiological tolerances. If this finding generally applies to other montane specialists, the prognosis for biodiversity loss in typically diverse montane systems is sobering. We propose that indices of warming-induced stress tolerance may provide a critical new tool for quantitative assessments of endangerment due to anthropogenic climate change across diverse species.
author list (cited authors)
Bernardo, J., & Spotila, J. R.