Ecotypic variation in the context of global climate change: revisiting the rules


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Patterns of ecotypic variation constitute some of the few ‘rules’ known to modern biology. Here, we examine several well-known ecogeographical rules, especially those pertaining to body size in contemporary, historical and fossil taxa. We review the evidence showing that rules of geographical variation in response to variation in the local environment can also apply to morphological changes through time in response to climate change. These rules hold at various time scales, ranging from contemporary to geological time scales. Patterns of body size variation in response to climate change at the individual species level may also be detected at the community level. The patterns underlying ecotypic variation are complex and highly context-dependent, reducing the ‘predictive-power’ of ecogeographical rules. This is especially true when considering the increasing impact of human activities on the environment. Nonetheless, ecogeographical rules may help interpret the likely influences of anthropogenic climate change on ecosystems. Global climate change has already influenced the body size of several contemporary species, and will likely have an even greater impact on animal communities in the future. For this reason, we highlight and emphasise the importance of museum specimens and the continued need for documenting the earth's biological diversity.