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Global metabolic impacts of recent climate warming


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.

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


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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Michael E. Dillon.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Dillon, M., Wang, G. & Huey, R. Global metabolic impacts of recent climate warming. Nature 467, 704–706 (2010).

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