Research ArticleENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE

Individualistic sensitivities and exposure to climate change explain variation in species’ distribution and abundance changes

Science Advances  30 Oct 2015:
Vol. 1, no. 9, e1400220
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400220

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Abstract

The responses of animals and plants to recent climate change vary greatly from species to species, but attempts to understand this variation have met with limited success. This has led to concerns that predictions of responses are inherently uncertain because of the complexity of interacting drivers and biotic interactions. However, we show for an exemplar group of 155 Lepidoptera species that about 60% of the variation among species in their abundance trends over the past four decades can be explained by species-specific exposure and sensitivity to climate change. Distribution changes were less well predicted, but nonetheless, up to 53% of the variation was explained. We found that species vary in their overall sensitivity to climate and respond to different components of the climate despite ostensibly experiencing the same climate changes. Hence, species have undergone different levels of population “forcing” (exposure), driving variation among species in their national-scale abundance and distribution trends. We conclude that variation in species’ responses to recent climate change may be more predictable than previously recognized.

Keywords
  • environmental change
  • extinction
  • sensitivity
  • Lepidoptera
  • population dynamics
  • anthropocene
  • colonisation
  • range shifts
  • climatic variability
  • biogeographic responses

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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