Rates of change in climatic niches in plant and animal populations are much slower than projected climate change

Tereza Jezkova, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Climate change may soon threaten much of global biodiversity. A critical question is: can species undergo niche shifts of sufficient speed and magnitude to persist within their current geographic ranges? Here, we analyse niche shifts among populations within 56 plant and animal species using time-calibrated trees from phylogeographic studies. Across 266 phylogeographic groups analysed, rates of niche change were much slower than rates of projected climate change (mean difference > 200 000-fold for temperature variables). Furthermore, the absolute niche divergence among populations was typically lower than the magnitude of projected climate change over the next approximately 55 years for relevant variables, suggesting the amount of change needed to persist may often be too great, even if these niche shifts were instantaneous. Rates were broadly similar between plants and animals, but especially rapid in some arthropods, birds and mammals. Rates for temperature variables were lower at lower latitudes, further suggesting that tropical species may be especially vulnerable to climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20162104
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1843
StatePublished - Nov 30 2016


  • Animals
  • Climate change
  • Climatic niche
  • Niche evolution
  • Phylogeography
  • Plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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