Shifts in the climate niche of mammals: evolutionary constraints or adaptation potential?


Predictions of effects of climate change on species distributions assume constant climatic niches. Our current understanding of how climate niches developed through evolution is very limited. This project shall analyse how climate niche of the 5488 mammal species worldwide is related to their phylogenetic position. The hypothesis is that closely related species will also have similar climate niches, indicating climate niche conservation. Based on current distributions and environmental data, we shall quantify the climate niche of each species and compare it to that of its closest relative (sister species). We shall investigate whether climate niche position is similarly phylogenetically constrained as other species traits such as body weight, gestation length or litter size. The huge breadth of mammal ecologies, their highly resolved phylogenetic tree, their high conservation relevance and their relatively well-known geographical distribution make them an ideal study system. In the process of this study, new methodological standards for the analysis of niche evolution will be developed, including randomisation tests, virtual species analysis and character tracing of climate niche position. In the end, we shall be able to specify the adaptation potential to climate change for a large number of species studied.


Carsten F. Dormann


DFG, 2011-2013