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Conserv Biol. 2009 Dec;23(6):1418-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01337.x.

The future of tropical species on a warmer planet.

Author information

1
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 0843-03092, Balboa, Panama. wrightj@si.edu

Abstract

Modern global temperature and land cover and projected future temperatures suggest that tropical forest species will be particularly sensitive to global warming. Given a moderate greenhouse gas emissions scenario, fully 75% of the tropical forests present in 2000 will experience mean annual temperatures in 2100 that are greater than the highest mean annual temperature that supports closed-canopy forest today. Temperature-sensitive species might extend their ranges to cool refuges, defined here as areas where temperatures projected for 2100 match 1960s temperatures in the modern range. Distances to such cool refuges are greatest for equatorial species and are particularly large for key tropical forest areas including the Amazon and Congo River Basins, West Africa, and the upper elevations of many tropical mountains. In sum, tropical species are likely to be particularly sensitive to global warming because they are adapted to limited geographic and seasonal variation in temperature, already lived at or near the highest temperatures on Earth before global warming began, and are often isolated from cool refuges. To illustrate these three points, we examined the distributions and habitat associations of all extant mammal species. The distance to the nearest cool refuge exceeded 1000 km for more than 20% of the tropical and less than 4% of the extratropical species with small ranges. The biological impact of global warming is likely to be as severe in the tropics as at temperate and boreal latitudes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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