Lagging behind climate change—debt for the North, bonus for the South

Study of European plants find climatic debts in colder Alpine and Boreal regions, but climatic bonus in warmer Mediterranean regions

GBIF-mediated data resources used : 111,549,494 species occurrences
Vaccinium uliginosum
Vaccinium uliginosum L. observed near Abisko Östra, Sweden by fjellrunner (CC BY-NC 4.0)

When the climate changes, species can either track their climatic optimum by moving in space—or respond adaptively adjusting to new climatic conditions. Climate change, however, often happens faster than species are able respond, leaving them with an unpaid "climatic debt".

To verify the existence of such debt, French researchers studied temporal shifts in climatic conditions and occupancy trends for 4,000 of the most common vascular plant species in Europe over the last 65 years.

Using more than 100 million GBIF-mediated species occurrences combined with six bioclimatic variables on temperature and precipitation, the authors calculated annual species climatic indices (SCI) for each species and variable and estimated species occupancy trends.

While negative correlation between SCI and occupancy trends—indicating a climatic debt—was not significant at the continental level, the two coldest biogeographic regions (boreal and alpine) showed an increase in temperature associated with negative occupancy trends over time, suggesting insufficient range shifts, i.e., climatic dept.

Surprisingly, the opposite pattern was present in the warmest Mediterranean region, as the occupancy of species experiencing temperature increases throughout their range tended to increase, suggesting a climate "bonus".

Duchenne F, Martin G and Porcher E (2021) European plants lagging behind climate change pay a climatic debt in the North, but are favoured in the South. Ecology Letters. Wiley, 1178–1186. Available at:

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  • France
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