Climatic niche evolution faster in warm-blooded vertebrates

The rate of climatic niche evolution shapes the future distribution of global vertebrate diversity

Data resources used via GBIF : 294,704,442 species occurrences
Sciurus carolinensis
Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) by Jody Shugart via iNaturalist. Photo licensed under CC BY 4.0.

The ecological niche of a species may evolve over time, and determining the mechanisms that drives such niche evolution is a key question in evolutionary biology. With climate and temperature playing an important role in shaping ecological niches, metabolic heat production (endodermy) may be a major factor.

To address this, authors of a large study of terrestrial vertebrates compared ecological niche evolution between birds and mammals (endoderms) and squamates and amphibians (ectoderms). By using GBIF-mediated observation occurrences combined with fossil records and paleo-temperature curves, the researchers reconstructed past climatic niches of all vertebrate groups over 270 millon years.

Based on these paleoclimatic niches, they estimated the rate of niche evolution and found this to be faster in endodermic birds and mammals than in ectodermic amphibians and squamates–a result that was also significant when only considering the last 5 million years.

The slow niche evolution in found ectoderms may affect dynamics of current ranges and patterns of biodiversity–especially when climate changes will require rapid evolution of climatic tolerances.

Link to original article

Rolland J, Silvestro D, Schluter D, Guisan A, Broennimann O and Salamin N (2018) The impact of endothermy on the climatic niche evolution and the distribution of vertebrate diversity. Nature Ecology & Evolution. Springer Nature 2(3): 459–464. Available at: