Geographical variation in species’ population responses to changes in temperature and precipitation

James W. Pearce-Higgins, Nancy Ockendon, David J. Baker, Jamie Carr, Elizabeth C. White, Rosamunde E. A. Almond, Tatsuya Amano, Esther Bertram, Richard B. Bradbury, Cassie Bradley, Stuart M. Butchart, Nathalie Doswald, Wendy Foden, David J. C. Gill, Rhys E. Green, William J. Sutherland, Edmund V. J. Tanner

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28 Citations (Scopus)


Despite increasing concerns about the vulnerability of species’ populations to climate change, there has been little overall synthesis of how individual population responses to variation in climate differ between taxa, with trophic level or geographically. To address this, we extracted data from 132 long-term (greater than or equal to 20 years) studies of population responses to temperature and precipitation covering 236 animal and plant species across terrestrial and freshwater habitats. Our results identify likely geographical differences in the effects of climate change on populations and communities in line with macroecological theory. Temperature tended to have a greater overall impact on populations than precipitation, although the effects of increased precipitation varied strongly with latitude, being most positive at low latitudes. Population responses to increased temperature were generally positive, but did not vary significantly with latitude. Studies reporting significant climatic trends through time tended to show more negative effects of temperature and more positive effects of precipitation upon populations than other studies, indicating climate change has already impacted many populations. Most studies of climate change impacts on biodiversity have focused on temperature and are from middle to high northern latitudes. Our results suggest their findings may be less applicable to low latitudes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20151561
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1818
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Biodiversity
  • Climate change
  • Climatic limiting factors
  • Energy–water hypothesis
  • Latitudinal variation

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