A species’ response to spatial climatic variation does not predict its response to climate change

Daniel L. Perret, Margaret E.K. Evans, Dov F. Sax

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The dominant paradigm for assessing ecological responses to climate change assumes that future states of individuals and populations can be predicted by current, species-wide performance variation across spatial climatic gradients. However, if the fates of ecological systems are better predicted by past responses to in situ climatic variation through time, this current analytical paradigm may be severely misleading. Empirically testing whether spatial or temporal climate responses better predict how species respond to climate change has been elusive, largely due to restrictive data requirements. Here, we leverage a newly collected network of ponderosa pine tree-ring time series to test whether statistically inferred responses to spatial versus temporal climatic variation better predict how trees have responded to recent climate change. When compared to observed tree growth responses to climate change since 1980, predictions derived from spatial climatic variation were wrong in both magnitude and direction. This was not the case for predictions derived from climatic variation through time, which were able to replicate observed responses well. Future climate scenarios through the end of the 21st century exacerbated these disparities. These results suggest that the currently dominant paradigm of forecasting the ecological impacts of climate change based on spatial climatic variation may be severely misleading over decadal to centennial timescales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2304404120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024


  • climate change
  • prediction
  • tree growth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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