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Microclimates Reduce Extinction Rates Driven by Climate Change

Paper Reviewed
Maclean, I.M.D., Hopkins, J.J., Bennie, J., Lawson, C.R. and Wilson, R.J. 2015. Microclimates buffer the responses of plant communities to climate change. Global Ecology and Biogeography 24: 1340-1350.

Many are the people who believe that global warming will result in the extinctions of numerous species of plants and animals. A growing numbers of others, however, do not see this occurring, due to the fact that local variations in landscape characteristics provide a variety of different microclimates, which possess characteristics that can mute the degree of temperature change experienced by the larger regions in which they occur. To explore this latter possibility, Maclean et al. (2015) examined fine-scale changes in the plant communities of a coastal grassland that occurred over a 30-year period during which spring temperatures rose by 1.4°C. And what did they thereby discover?

The five researchers report that "patterns of species turnover revealed that species with low temperature requirements were able to persist on cooler slopes," which they thus suggest "may act as micro-refugia, buffering the effects on plant communities of increases in temperature by delaying extinctions of species with low temperature requirements." And they further note, in this regard, that -- in the real world of nature -- "range expansions have been more frequently documented than range retractions," citing the studies of Thomas et al. (2006) and Sunday et al. (2012).

Sunday, J.M., Bates, A.E. and Dulvy, N.K. 2012. Thermal tolerance and the global redistribution of animals. Nature Climate Change 2: 686-690.

Thomas, C.D., Franco, A. and Hill, J.K. 2006. Range retractions and extinction in the face of climate warming. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 21: 415-416.

Posted 10 February 2016