Most predictions of how animals will move in changing climates rely on statistically relating an animal's current location to environmental conditions. This approach ignores potentially important aspects of an animal's biology including size, physiology, and behavior.
Lauren Buckley, an ecologist at the Santa Fe Institute, has developed a bottom-up approach that predicts distributions directly from an animal's traits and environmental conditions by modeling the energy use of individuals and populations. Research forthcoming in The American Naturalist applies the model to five populations of a widespread North American lizard, Sceloporus undulatus, to examine whether geographic variation in traits influences range predictions.
Buckley finds that lizards from the five populations are suited to live in different areas and are predicted to respond differently to a climate warming of 3°C, contrasting the predictions of statistical models.
While all populations are predicted to shift northward in response to climate warming, the extent of the predicted northward shift depends on the lizard's traits.
The research suggests that mechanistic modeling approaches that consider an animal's biology will be essential to realistic predictions of how animals will respond to climate change. The research points to the importance of biological factors such as adaptation of physiology, interactions with other organisms, and movement limitations.
"Additional biologically-based approaches to predicting how animals will respond to climate change are urgently needed," noted Buckley. "Without such approaches, we will likely be surprised by how the peculiarities of an animal's biology influence its range shifts."
This research was published in the January issue of the American Naturalist.
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