Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Global metabolic impacts of recent climate warming

Abstract

Documented shifts in geographical ranges1,2, seasonal phenology3,4, community interactions5, genetics3,6 and extinctions7 have been attributed to recent global warming8,9,10. Many such biotic shifts have been detected at mid- to high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere4,9,10—a latitudinal pattern that is expected4,8,10,11 because warming is fastest in these regions8. In contrast, shifts in tropical regions are expected to be less marked4,8,10,11 because warming is less pronounced there8. However, biotic impacts of warming are mediated through physiology, and metabolic rate, which is a fundamental measure of physiological activity and ecological impact, increases exponentially rather than linearly with temperature in ectotherms12. Therefore, tropical ectotherms (with warm baseline temperatures) should experience larger absolute shifts in metabolic rate than the magnitude of tropical temperature change itself would suggest, but the impact of climate warming on metabolic rate has never been quantified on a global scale. Here we show that estimated changes in terrestrial metabolic rates in the tropics are large, are equivalent in magnitude to those in the north temperate-zone regions, and are in fact far greater than those in the Arctic, even though tropical temperature change has been relatively small. Because of temperature’s nonlinear effects on metabolism, tropical organisms, which constitute much of Earth’s biodiversity, should be profoundly affected by recent and projected climate warming2,13,14.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Global changes in temperature and in metabolic rates since 1980.
Figure 2: Predicted changes in metabolic rates of diverse terrestrial ectotherms.

References

  1. 1

    Parmesan, C. & Yohe, G. A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature 421, 37–42 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Colwell, R. K., Brehm, G., Cardelus, C. L., Gilman, A. C. & Longino, J. T. Global warming, elevational range shifts, and lowland biotic attrition in the wet tropics. Science 322, 258–261 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Bradshaw, W. & Holzapfel, C. Genetic shift in photoperiodic response correlated with global warming. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 98, 14509–14511 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Parmesan, C. Influences of species, latitudes and methodologies on estimates of phenological response to global warming. Glob. Change Biol. 13, 1860–1872 (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Both, C., van Asch, M., Bijlsma, R., van den Burg, A. & Visser, M. Climate change and unequal phenological changes across four trophic levels: constraints or adaptations? J. Anim. Ecol. 78, 73–83 (2009)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Umina, P. A., Weeks, A. R., Kearney, M. R., McKechnie, S. W. & Hoffmann, A. A. A rapid shift in a classic clinal pattern in Drosophila reflecting climate change. Science 308, 691–693 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Sinervo, B. et al. Erosion of lizard diversity by climate change and altered thermal niches. Science 328, 894–899 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    IPCC. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007)

  9. 9

    Walther, G.-R. et al. Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature 416, 389–395 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Rosenzweig, C. et al. Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change. Nature 453, 353–357 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Root, T. L. et al. Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants. Nature 421, 57–60 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Gillooly, J. F., Brown, J. H., West, G. B., Savage, V. M. & Charnov, E. L. Effects of size and temperature on metabolic rate. Science 293, 2248–2251 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Deutsch, C. A. et al. Impacts of climate warming on terrestrial ectotherms across latitude. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 6668–6672 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Pounds, J., Fogden, M. & Campbell, J. Biological response to climate change on a tropical mountain. Nature 398, 611–615 (1999)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Savage, V. M. Improved approximations to scaling relationships for species, populations, and ecosystems across latitudinal and elevational gradients. J. Theor. Biol. 227, 525–534 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Clarke, A. Temperature and the metabolic theory of ecology. Funct. Ecol. 20, 405–412 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Downs, C. J., Hayes, J. P. & Tracy, C. R. Scaling metabolic rate with body mass and inverse body temperature: a test of the Arrhenius fractal supply model. Funct. Ecol. 22, 239–244 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    O’Connor, M. P. et al. Reconsidering the mechanistic basis of the metabolic theory of ecology. Oikos 116, 1058–1072 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Martínez del Rio, C. Metabolic theory or metabolic models? Trends Ecol. Evol. 23, 256–260 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Lott, N., Baldwin, R. & Jones, P. The FCC Integrated Surface Hourly Database, A New Resource of Global Climate Data.http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/techrpts/tr200101/tr2001-01.pdf〉 (National Climatic Data Center, 2001)

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Rice, W. R. & Gaines, S. D. Extending non-directional heterogeneity tests to evaluate simply ordered alternative hypotheses. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 91, 225–226 (1994)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Dunham, A. E. in Biotic Interactions and Global Change (eds Kareiva, P. M., Kingsolver, J. G. & Huey, R. B.) 95–119 (Sinauer, 1993)

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Hertz, P. E., Huey, R. B. & Stevenson, R. D. Evaluating temperature regulation by field-active ectotherms: the fallacy of the inappropriate question. Am. Nat. 142, 796–818 (1993)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Kearney, M., Shine, R. & Porter, W. P. The potential for behavioral thermoregulation to buffer “cold-blooded” animals against climate warming. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 3835–3840 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Pörtner, H. Physiological basis of temperature-dependent biogeography: tradeoffs in muscle design and performance in polar ectotherms. J. Exp. Biol. 205, 2217–2230 (2002)

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Irlich, U. M., Terblanche, J. S., Blackburn, T. M. & Chown, S. L. Insect rate–temperature relationships: environmental variation and the metabolic theory of ecology. Am. Nat. 174, 819–835 (2009)

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Wake, D. B. & Vredenburg, V. T. Are we in the midst of the sixth mass extinction? A view from the world of amphibians. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 11466–11473 (2008)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Bond-Lamberty, B. & Thomson, A. Temperature-associated increases in the global soil respiration record. Nature 464, 579–582 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Paaijmans, K. P., Read, A. F. & Thomas, M. B. Understanding the link between malaria risk and climate. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 13844–13849 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Hastings, D. A. & Dunbar, P. K. Global Land One-Kilometer Base Elevation (GLOBE).http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/topo/report/globedocumentationmanual.pdf〉 (National Geophysical Data Center, 1999)

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Reich, P. B., Tjoelker, M. G., Machado, J.-L. & Oleksyn, J. Universal scaling of respiratory metabolism, size and nitrogen in plants. Nature 439, 457–461 (2006)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Ruel, J. J. & Ayres, M. P. Jensen’s inequality predicts effects of environmental variation. Trends Ecol. Evol. 14, 361–366 (1999)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank T. L. Daniel, C. Martínez del Rio, W. R. Rice and J. Tewksbury for discussion, and S. L. Chown for sharing his data on latitudinal variation in E. Research was funded in part by NSF IOB-041684 to R.B.H. and by an NSF Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship to M.E.D.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

M.E.D., G.W. and R.B.H. conceived the project, designed the analyses and wrote the paper; M.E.D. and G.W. collated weather station data and did temperature and metabolic rate calculations.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael E. Dillon.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

The file contains Supplementary Tables 1-2 and Supplementary Figures 1-5 with legends. (PDF 422 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Dillon, M., Wang, G. & Huey, R. Global metabolic impacts of recent climate warming. Nature 467, 704–706 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09407

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links