The ecological niche of a species may evolve over time, and determining the mechanisms that drive 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 snakes, lizards 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 million 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, snakes and lizards–a result that was also significant when only considering the last 5 million years.
The slow niche evolution in found ectoderms may affect the dynamics of current ranges and patterns of biodiversity–especially when climate change will require rapid evolution of climatic tolerances.