The roles of acclimation and behaviour in buffering climate change impacts along elevational gradients

Urtzi Enriquez-Urzelai, Reid Tingley, Michael R. Kearney, Martina Sacco, Antonio S. Palacio, Miguel Tejedo, Alfredo G. Nicieza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The vulnerability of species to climate change is jointly influenced by geographic phenotypic variation, acclimation and behavioural thermoregulation. The importance of interactions between these factors, however, remains poorly understood. We demonstrate how advances in mechanistic niche modelling can be used to integrate and assess the influence of these sources of uncertainty in forecasts of climate change impacts. We explored geographic variation in thermal tolerance (i.e. maximum and minimum thermal limits) and its potential for acclimation in juvenile European common frogs Rana temporaria along elevational gradients. Furthermore, we employed a mechanistic niche model (NicheMapR) to assess the relative contributions of phenotypic variation, acclimation and thermoregulation in determining the impacts of climate change on thermal safety margins and activity windows. Our analyses revealed that high-elevation populations had slightly wider tolerance ranges driven by increases in heat tolerance but lower potential for acclimation. Plausibly, wider thermal fluctuations at high elevations favour more tolerant but less plastic phenotypes, thus reducing the risk of encountering stressful temperatures during unpredictable extreme events. Biophysical models of thermal exposure indicated that observed phenotypic and plastic differences provide limited protection from changing climates. Indeed, the risk of reaching body temperatures beyond the species' thermal tolerance range was similar across elevations. In contrast, the ability to seek cooler retreat sites through behavioural adjustments played an essential role in buffering populations from thermal extremes predicted under climate change. Predicted climate change also altered current activity windows, but high-elevation populations were predicted to remain more temporally constrained than lowland populations. Our results demonstrate that elevational variation in thermal tolerances and acclimation capacity might be insufficient to buffer temperate amphibians from predicted climate change; instead, behavioural thermoregulation may be the only effective mechanism to avoid thermal stress under future climates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1722-1734
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • acclimation
  • activity restrictions
  • behavioural thermoregulation
  • Bogert effect
  • global warming
  • mechanistic niche modelling
  • NicheMapR
  • thermal-safety margins

Cite this

Enriquez-Urzelai, U., Tingley, R., Kearney, M. R., Sacco, M., Palacio, A. S., Tejedo, M., & Nicieza, A. G. (2020). The roles of acclimation and behaviour in buffering climate change impacts along elevational gradients. Journal of Animal Ecology, 89(7), 1722-1734.