Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting 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.

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.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

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.


  1. Thomas, C. D. et al. Extinction risk from climate change. Nature 427, 145–148 (2004)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  2. Thuiller, W., Lavorel, S., Araújo, M. B., Sykes, M. T. & Prentice, I. C. Climate change threats to plant diversity in Europe. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 102, 8245–8250 (2005)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Mace, G. M., Gittleman, J. L. & Purvis, A. Preserving the tree of life. Science 300, 1707–1709 (2003)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Nee, S. & May, R. M. Extinction and the loss of evolutionary history. Science 288, 328–330 (1997)

    Google Scholar 

  5. Heard, S. B. & Mooers, A. O. Phylogenetically patterned speciation rates and extinction risks change the loss of evolutionary history during extinctions. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 267, 613–620 (2000)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Parmesan, C. Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 37, 637–669 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Meyers, L. A. & Bull, J. J. Fighting change with change: adaptive variation in an uncertain world. Trends Ecol. Evol. 17, 551–557 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Thuiller, W. Climate change and the ecologist. Nature 448, 550–552 (2007)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  9. Purvis, A. Phylogenetic approaches to the study of extinction. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 39, 301–319 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Thuiller, W., Lavorel, S. & Araújo, M. B. Niche properties and geographical extent as predictors of species sensitivity to climate change. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 14, 347–357 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Prinzing, A., Durka, W., Klotz, S. & Brandl, R. The niche of higher plants: evidence for phylogenetic conservatism. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 268, 2383–2389 (2001)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. McKinney, M. L. Extinction vulnerability and selectivity: combining ecological and paleontological views. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 28, 495–516 (1997)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Lande, R. Statistics and partitioning of species diversity, and similarity among multiple communities. Oikos 76, 5–13 (1996)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Chown, S. L. & Gaston, K. J. Areas, cradles and museums: the latitudinal gradient in species richness. Trends Ecol. Evol. 15, 311–315 (2000)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Mitchell, T. D. & Jones, P. D. An improved method of constructing a database of monthly climate observations and associated high-resolution grids. Int. J. Climatol. 25, 693–712 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Baillie, J. E. M., Hilton-Taylor, C., Stuart, S. N., eds. 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. A Global Species Assessment (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2004)

    Google Scholar 

  17. Bambach, R. K. Phanerozoic biodiversity mass extinctions. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 34, 127–155 (2006)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  18. Koch, P. L. & Barnosky, A. D. Late Quaternary extinctions: state of the debate. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 37, 215–250 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Thuiller, W., Lafourcade, B., Engler, R. & Araujo, M. B. BIOMOD – a platform for ensemble forecasting of species distributions. Ecography 32, 369–373 (2009)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Nakicenovic, N. & Swart, R. Emissions Scenarios: A Special Report of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 570 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  21. Marmion, M., Parviainen, M., Luoto, M., Heikkinen, R. K. & Thuiller, W. Evaluation of consensus methods in predictive species distribution modelling. Divers. Distrib. 15, 59–69 (2009)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Smith, S. A., Beaulieu, J. M. & Donoghue, M. J. Mega-phylogeny approach for comparative biology: an alternative to supertree and supermatrix approaches. BMC Evol. Biol. 9, 37–48 (2009)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Fritz, S. A., Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. & Purvis, A. Geographical variation in predictors of mammalian extinction risk: big is bad, but only in the tropics. Ecol. Lett. 12, 538–549 (2009)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Pavoine, S., Ollier, S., Pontier, D. & Chessel, D. Testing for phylogenetic signal in phenotypic traits: new matrices of phylogenetic proximities. Theor. Popul. Biol. 73, 79–91 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Blomberg, S. P., Garland, T. & Ives, A. R. Testing for phylogenetic signal in comparative data: behavioral traits are more labile. Evolution 57, 717–745 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Pagel, M. Inferring the historical patterns of biological evolution. Nature 401, 877–884 (1999)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  27. Witting, L. & Loeschke, V. The optimization of biodiversity conservation. Biol. Conserv. 71, 205–207 (1995)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


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).

Author information

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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wilfried Thuiller.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

The file contains Supplementary Figures 1-8 with legends, Supplementary References, Supplementary Table 1 and a Supplementary Methods section containing additional figures, tables and references. (PDF 1386 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


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.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing