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Featured Science Paper

Animal temperature limits and ecological relevance: effects of size, activity and rates of change

Climate change is affecting species distributions and will increasingly do so. However, current understanding of which individuals and species are most likely to survive and why is poor. To address this, this paper investigates differences in individual and species abilities to tolerate warming, and also how rate of warming affected survival.

Results showed that smaller individuals survived to higher temperatures than large animals when temperatures were raised acutely. If this trend continues at slower warming rates, the early loss of larger individuals has marked consequences at the population level as larger individuals form the major reproductive component. Species comparisons showed active species survived to higher temperatures than low activity groups. Thus active groups (e.g. predators) and juvenile or immature individuals should fare better in rapid warming scenarios. This would be expected to produce short-term ecological imbalances in warming events.

The rate of warming markedly affected temperature limits in a wide range of Antarctic marine species. Different species survived to higher temperatures when temperatures were raised by around 1°C per day, however they could only tolerate smaller temperature increases when they were warmed over longer periods of weeks or months. This study is an important step in the provision data for more accurate models and prediction of the effects of climate change on Antarctic marine organisms.

Link to the full paper in the NERC Open Research Archive


Lloyd S. Peck, Melody S. Clark, Simon A. Morley, Alison Massey and Helen Rossetti


Functional Ecology 2009, 23, 248–256, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2008.01537.x