Pleistocene climate, phylogeny, and climate envelope models: an integrative approach to better understand species' response to climate change. Academic Article uri icon


  • Mean annual temperature reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change increases at least 1.1C to 6.4C over the next 90 years. In context, a change in climate of 6C is approximately the difference between the mean annual temperature of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and our current warm interglacial. Species have been responding to changing climate throughout Earth's history and their previous biological responses can inform our expectations for future climate change. Here we synthesize geological evidence in the form of stable oxygen isotopes, general circulation paleoclimate models, species' evolutionary relatedness, and species' geographic distributions. We use the stable oxygen isotope record to develop a series of temporally high-resolution paleoclimate reconstructions spanning the Middle Pleistocene to Recent, which we use to map ancestral climatic envelope reconstructions for North American rattlesnakes. A simple linear interpolation between current climate and a general circulation paleoclimate model of the LGM using stable oxygen isotope ratios provides good estimates of paleoclimate at other time periods. We use geologically informed rates of change derived from these reconstructions to predict magnitudes and rates of change in species' suitable habitat over the next century. Our approach to modeling the past suitable habitat of species is general and can be adopted by others. We use multiple lines of evidence of past climate (isotopes and climate models), phylogenetic topology (to correct the models for long-term changes in the suitable habitat of a species), and the fossil record, however sparse, to cross check the models. Our models indicate the annual rate of displacement in a clade of rattlesnakes over the next century will be 2 to 3 orders of magnitude greater (430-2,420 m/yr) than it has been on average for the past 320 ky (2.3 m/yr).

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

altmetric score

  • 36.28

author list (cited authors)

  • Lawing, A. M., & Polly, P. D.

citation count

  • 72

complete list of authors

  • Lawing, A Michelle||Polly, P David

editor list (cited editors)

  • Nogues-Bravo, D.

publication date

  • December 2011