Mapping climatic mechanisms likely to favour the emergence of novel communities


Climatic conditions are changing at different rates and in different directions1,2, potentially causing the emergence of novel species assemblages3. Here we identify areas where recent (1901–2013) changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to be producing novel species assemblages through three distinct mechanisms: emergence of novel climatic combinations4,5, rapid displacement of climatic isoclines1,2,6,7,8 and local divergences between temperature and precipitation vectors1,2. Novel climates appear in the tropics, while displacement is faster at higher latitudes and divergence is high in the subtropics and mountainous regions. Globally, novel climate combinations so far are rare (3.4% of evaluated cells), mean displacement is 3.7 km decade−1 and divergence is high (>60°) for 67% of evaluated cells. Via at least one of the proposed mechanisms, novel species assemblages are likely to be forming in the North American Great Plains and temperate forests, Amazon, South American grasslands, Australia, boreal Asia and Africa. In these areas, temperature- and moisture-sensitive species may be affected by new climates emerging, differential biotic lags to rapidly changing climates or by being pulled in opposite directions along local spatial gradients. These results provide spatially explicit hypotheses about where and why novel communities are likely to emerge due to recent climate change.

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Figure 1: Diagram representing the differences between climatic novelty, displacement and divergence.
Figure 2: Bivariate kernel-density plots of the bearing and rate of displacement for temperature and precipitation from 1901 to 2013.
Figure 3: Global maps of climatic novelty, average displacement, divergence, and combined divergence and displacement, with kernel-density plots of divergence and displacement for the period 1901–2013.


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A.O. and J.-C.S. were financially supported through grant ERC-2012-StG-310886-HISTFUNC to J.-C.S. J.W.W. was supported by NSF grants DEB-1257508 and DEB-1353896. This manuscript benefited from detailed comments by D. Ackerly.

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A.O. developed and implemented the methodological approaches, downscaled the climatic data, ran analyses and produced figures and tables. A.O., J.W.W. and J.-C.S. interpreted the results. A.O. led the writing, with the assistance of J.W.W. and J.-C.S.

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Correspondence to Alejandro Ordonez.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ordonez, A., Williams, J. & Svenning, J. Mapping climatic mechanisms likely to favour the emergence of novel communities. Nature Clim Change 6, 1104–1109 (2016).

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