Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Greatest warming is in the north, but biggest impact on life is in the tropics, new research shows

Date:
October 7, 2010
Source:
University of Washington
Summary:
New research adds to growing evidence that, even though the temperature increase associated with a warming climate has been smaller in the tropics, the impact of warming on life could be much greater there than in colder climates.

New research finds that even though the temperature increase has been smaller in the tropics, the impact of warming on life could be much greater there than in colder climates.
Credit: iStockphoto/Jan Rysavy

In recent decades documented biological changes in the far Northern Hemisphere have been attributed to global warming, changes from species extinctions to shifting geographic ranges. Such changes were expected because warming has been fastest in the northern temperate zone and the Arctic.

But new research published in the Oct. 7 edition of Nature adds to growing evidence that, even though the temperature increase has been smaller in the tropics, the impact of warming on life could be much greater there than in colder climates.

The study focused on ectothermic, or cold-blooded, organisms (those whose body temperature approximates the temperature of their surroundings). Researchers used nearly 500 million temperature readings from more than 3,000 stations around the world to chart temperature increases from 1961 through 2009, then examined the effect of those increases on metabolism.

"The expectation was that physiological changes would also be greatest in the north temperate-Arctic region, but when we ran the numbers that expectation was flipped on its head," said lead author Michael Dillon, an assistant professor of zoology and physiology at the University of Wyoming.

Metabolic changes are key to understanding some major impacts of climate warming because a higher metabolic rate requires more food and more oxygen, said co-author Raymond Huey, a University of Washington biology professor. If, for example, an organism has to spend more time eating or conserving energy, it might have less time and energy for reproduction.

"Metabolic rate tells you how fast the animal is living and thus its intensity of life," Huey said.

Using a well-documented, century-old understanding that metabolic rates for cold-blooded animals increase faster the warmer the temperature, the researchers determined that the effects on metabolism will be greatest in the tropics, even though that region has the smallest actual warming. Metabolic impacts will be less in the Arctic, even though it has shown the most warming. In essence, organisms in the tropics show greater effects because they start at much higher temperatures than animals in the Arctic.

Dillon and co-author George Wang of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tόbingen, Germany, sifted through temperature data maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center. They came up with readings from 3,186 stations that met their criteria of recording temperature at least every six hours during every season from 1961 through 2009. The stations, though not evenly spaced, represented every region of the globe except Antarctica.

The data, the scientists said, reflect temperature changes since 1980 that are consistent with other recent findings that show the Earth is getting warmer. Temperatures rose fastest in the Arctic, not quite as fast in the northern temperate zone and even more slowly in the tropics.

"Just because the temperature change in the tropics is small doesn't mean the biological impacts will be small," Huey said. "All of the studies we're doing suggest the opposite is true."

In fact, previous research from the University of Washington has indicated that small temperature changes can push tropical organisms beyond their optimal body temperatures and cause substantial stress, while organisms in temperate and polar regions can tolerate much larger increases because they already are used to large seasonal temperature swings.

The scientists say the effects of warming temperatures in the tropics have largely been ignored because temperature increases have been much greater farther north and because so few researchers work in the tropics.

"I think this argues strongly that we need more studies of the impacts of warming on organisms in the tropics," Dillon said.

The work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Michael E. Dillon, George Wang, Raymond B. Huey. Global metabolic impacts of recent climate warming. Nature, 2010; 467 (7316): 704 DOI: 10.1038/nature09407

Cite This Page:

University of Washington. "Greatest warming is in the north, but biggest impact on life is in the tropics, new research shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101006141548.htm>.
University of Washington. (2010, October 7). Greatest warming is in the north, but biggest impact on life is in the tropics, new research shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101006141548.htm
University of Washington. "Greatest warming is in the north, but biggest impact on life is in the tropics, new research shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101006141548.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) — The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

AP (July 28, 2014) — AP Investigation: As the Obama administration weans the country off dirty fuels, energy companies are ramping-up overseas coal exports at a heavy price. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) — A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Newsy (July 27, 2014) — A national study conducted by the USDA Forest Service found that trees collectively save more than 850 lives on an annual basis. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins