Presentation by Kenneth J. Feeley at the 2013 GBIF Science Symposium. Title: Running from the heat: Can tropical forests shift their distributions to remain at equilibrium with climate?
Global climate change is predicted to drive changes in species’ geographic distributions. These changes will have implications for the extinction risks of individual species, as well as for patterns of local biodiversity. In order to better understand and predict these changes it is important to have baseline information on the past and current distributions and ecological niches of species, information that is lacking for the vast majority of tropical plant species. By combining the vast database of historical natural history and collection records available through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) with modern forest inventory data, the presenter shows that tropical plant species from Costa Rica, the Andes Mountains and the lowland Amazon, all show evidence of climate-driven distributional shifts. These ‘migrations’ have generally been slower than required for the species to remain at equilibrium with climate and have been driven primarily by dieback in the lower, hotter, portions of species’ ranges. Forecasting into the future, we predict rapid rates of biodiversity loss and biotic attrition throughout much of the tropics unless steps are taken to immediately and dramatically reduce rates of climate change and facilitate the expansion of species’ ranges into newly-suitable habitats.
Kenneth J. Feeley