Aim To identify hypotheses for how climate change affects long-term population persistence that can be used as a framework for future syntheses of ecological responses to climate change.
Methods We surveyed ecological and evolutionary concepts related to how a changing climate might alter population persistence. We organized established concepts into a two-stage framework that relates abiotic change to population persistence via changes in the rates or outcomes of ecological and evolutionary processes. We surveyed reviews of climate change responses, and evaluated patterns in light of our conceptual framework.
Results We classified hypotheses for population responses to climate change as one of two types: (1) hypotheses that relate rates of ecological and evolutionary processes (plasticity, dispersal, population growth and evolution) to abiotic change, and (2) hypotheses that relate changes in these processes to four fundamental population-level responses (colonization, acclimatization, adaptation or extinction). We found that a disproportionate emphasis on response in the climate change literature is difficult to reconcile with ecological and evolutionary theories that emphasize processes. We discuss a set of 24 hypotheses that represent gaps in the literature that limit our ability determine whether observed climate change responses are sufficient to facilitate persistence through future climate change.
Main conclusions Though theory relates environmental change to fundamental ecological and evolutionary processes and population-level responses, clear hypotheses based on theory have not been systematically formulated and tested in the context of climate change. Stronger links between basic theory and observed impacts of climate change are required to assess which responses are common, likely or able to facilitate population persistence despite ongoing environmental change. We anticipate that a hypothesis-testing framework will reveal that indirect effects of climate change responses are more pervasive than previously thought and related to a few general processes, even though the patterns they create are incredibly diverse.