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Consequences of climate change on the tree of life in Europe


Many species are projected to become vulnerable to twenty-first-century climate changes1,2, with consequent effects on the tree of life. If losses were not randomly distributed across the tree of life, climate change could lead to a disproportionate loss of evolutionary history3,4,5. Here we estimate the consequences of climate change on the phylogenetic diversities of plant, bird and mammal assemblages across Europe. Using a consensus across ensembles of forecasts for 2020, 2050 and 2080 and high-resolution phylogenetic trees, we show that species vulnerability to climate change clusters weakly across phylogenies. Such phylogenetic signal in species vulnerabilities does not lead to higher loss of evolutionary history than expected with a model of random extinctions. This is because vulnerable species have neither fewer nor closer relatives than the remaining clades. Reductions in phylogenetic diversity will be greater in southern Europe, and gains are expected in regions of high latitude or altitude. However, losses will not be offset by gains and the tree of life faces a trend towards homogenization across the continent.

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Figure 1: Changes in suitable climate (A1FI scenario for 2080) mapped onto the phylogeny of European plants, birds and mammals.
Figure 2: Changes in phylogenetic diversity versus scenarios of random extinction for plants, birds and mammals.
Figure 3: Map of current and future phylogenetic diversities (A1FI scenario for 2080) and their relative differences for the three species groups.

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This research was funded by the EU ECOCHANGE (GOCE-CT-2007-036866) and DIVERSITALP (ANR-2007-BDIV-014) projects. C.R. was supported by a grant from Fundación Ramón Areces. We thank P. Pearman and A. Mooers for comments on earlier drafts. Computations were performed using the CIMENT infrastructure (, supported by the Rhône-Alpes region (GRANT CPER07-13 CIRA).

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Authors and Affiliations



W.T. and S.L. designed the study, C.R. built the plant and bird phylogenies, I.B. and B.L. helped with R code writing, and W.T. performed all the analyses. W.T., S.L. and M.B.A. wrote the manuscript with substantial contributions from all authors.

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Correspondence to Wilfried Thuiller.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Thuiller, W., Lavergne, S., Roquet, C. et al. Consequences of climate change on the tree of life in Europe. Nature 470, 531–534 (2011).

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