Get access

Physiological effects of climate on distributions of endothermic species


Steve Oswald, Division of Science, Pennsylvania State University, Berks Campus, PO Box 7009, Tulpehocken Road, Reading, PA 19610, USA.


Aim  Determining the mechanisms underlying climatic limitation of species distributions is essential for understanding responses to current climatic change. Disentangling direct (e.g. physiological) and indirect (e.g. trophic) effects of climate on distributions through occurrence-based modelling is problematic because most species use the same area for both shelter and food acquisition. By focusing on marine birds that breed on land but feed at sea, we exploit a rare opportunity to dissociate direct from indirect climatic effects on endothermic species.

Location  Coastal Europe.

Methods  We developed climate-response surfaces (CRS) for 13 seabird species in coastal Europe, linking terrestrial climatic variables considered important for heat transfer with presence/absence data across each species’ entire European breeding range. Agreement between modelled and actual distribution was assessed for jackknifed samples using area under the curve (AUC) of receiver operating characteristic plots. Higher AUC values indicated closer correspondence between observed breeding distribution and terrestrial climate. We assessed the influence of several ecological factors on model performance across species.

Results  Species maximum foraging range and breeding latitude explained the greatest proportion of variation in AUC across species. AUC was positively related to both latitude and foraging range.

Main conclusions  The positive relationship between foraging range and AUC suggests that species foraging further are more likely to be constrained by environmental heat stress conditions at the breeding site. One plausible explanation is that long foraging trips result in one parent spending long periods in continuous nest attendance, exposed to such conditions. These may include negative impacts through predation and parasitism in addition to physiological responses to the thermal environment, which probably explains why our models performed better for species breeding at higher latitudes, where such species interactions are considered less important. These data highlight the importance of considering physiological impacts of climate for endothermic species, and suggest that widespread oceanographic changes that reduce prey quality and quantity for seabirds at sea may be exacerbated by additional impacts of climate at the breeding site.