Desert-adapted species are vulnerable to climate change: Insights from the warmest region on Earth

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Abstract

Climate change is eroding biodiversity and conservation efforts have focused on species’ potential responses to those changes. Biological traits associated with sensitivity and adaptive capacities may contribute in identifying a species vulnerability to climate change. Desert-living species could be particularly vulnerable to climate change as they may already live at their physiological limits. This work aims to identify functional groups in Sahara-Sahel endemics, to determine their spatial distribution and to evaluate how the predicted magnitude and velocity of climate change in the region might affect them. We collated biological traits data for all Sahara-Sahel endemics. We then summarized the functional strategy of each species into functional groups with different sensitivities and adaptive capacities to climate change. Future climate scenarios were reclassified to identify areas where predicted temperature and precipitation approach the physiological limits of each group. We calculated the velocity of temperature and precipitation change as the ratio of the temporal gradient to the spatial gradient. Specific magnitudes and velocities of environmental change threaten our seven function groups differently according to their level of exposure and geographical distributions. Groups are more exposed to precipitation than to temperature changes. The more exposed functional groups lived mostly in flat areas, where the predicted magnitude and velocities of change were also the highest. Some functional groups with high adaptive capacities (e.g. volant species) may be able to colonize distinct areas. Other groups with low sensitivity and adaptive capacity (e.g.: ectotherms with small home ranges) may be vulnerable to climate change. Different biological traits contributed to the extent to which climate change harms species. The desert-adapted species may be the most vulnerable ones. The vulnerability patterns of Sahara-Sahel functional groups provide indications of combinations of biological traits and biodiversity's exposure to climate change in other warm deserts of the world.

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Vale, C. G., & Brito, J. C. (2015). Desert-adapted species are vulnerable to climate change: Insights from the warmest region on Earth. Global Ecology and Conservation, 4, 369–379. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2015.07.012

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