Research ArticleECOLOGY

Plasticity reveals hidden resistance to extinction under climate change in the global hotspot of salamander diversity

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Science Advances  11 Jul 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 7, eaar5471
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar5471


Extinction rates are predicted to rise exponentially under climate warming, but many of these predictions ignore physiological and behavioral plasticity that might buffer species from extinction. We evaluated the potential for physiological acclimatization and behavioral avoidance of poor climatic conditions to lower extinction risk under climate change in the global hotspot of salamander diversity, a region currently predicted to lose most of the salamander habitat due to warming. Our approach integrated experimental physiology and behavior into a mechanistic species distribution model to predict extinction risk based on an individual’s capacity to maintain energy balance with and without plasticity. We assessed the sensitivity of extinction risk to body size, behavioral strategies, limitations on energy intake, and physiological acclimatization of water loss and metabolic rate. The field and laboratory experiments indicated that salamanders readily acclimatize water loss rates and metabolic rates in ways that could maintain positive energy balance. Projections with plasticity reduced extinction risk by 72% under climate warming, especially in the core of their range. Further analyses revealed that juveniles might experience the greatest physiological stress under climate warming, but we identified specific physiological adaptations or plastic responses that could minimize the lethal physiological stress imposed on juveniles. We conclude that incorporating plasticity fundamentally alters ecological predictions under climate change by reducing extinction risk in the hotspot of salamander diversity.

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