Generalist species are more resistant to climate change


The ability to inhabit many environments – generalist – or low – specialist species – is the most important factor in the adaptation of the different families of terrestrial mammals and their evolution in the face of the effects of climate change, according to international research carried out by the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM).

The study, published in Historical Biology, builds on paleontologist Elisabeth S. Vrba’s 1980s hypothesis of the environmental specialization of species as crucial to understanding species evolution and diversification.

“We have already analyzed some groups in previous work, but this is the first time that we have included information on all terrestrial mammal species, over 5,000 in 153 families, to examine this question”emphasizes Manuel Hernández Fernández, researcher at the Department of Geodynamics, Stratigraphy and Paleontology of the UCM and IGEO.


Generalist species suffer less from climate change

Biomes are large ecological units defined by their environmental conditions; some examples include deciduous forest or sclerophyllous scrub.

Species capable of occupying different biomes (generalists) experience less alteration due to climate change, as they are able to take advantage of resources from different origins and can remain unchanged for long periods of time. For their part, species that can only live in a single biome (specialists) are strongly affected by climate change, which can fragment their populations and will further diversify.

“If this fragmentation lasts long enough for gene flow to be interrupted between them, it can result in the differentiation of a different species in each of these population fragments. This results in an overabundance of specialized species compared to generalists.explains Hernandez Fernandez. However, he adds, this greater capacity for diversification comes at the cost of greater vulnerability to climate change.

Extreme biomes, more conducive to diversification

To carry out the study, distribution data was collected for each species, taking into account the biomes they inhabit. This made it possible, in addition to corroborating the hypothesis, to establish that certain biomes represent places that are particularly favorable to the diversification of specialist species.

“It would be the biomes located in the climatic extremes of our planet, which would undergo the greatest alterations due to variations in the Earth’s climate”indicates the UCM paleontologist, who lists them: equatorial forests (extreme hot-humid), subtropical deserts (hot-dry), steppes (cold-dry) and tundra (cold-humid).

They also observe a great variability between the different families and biomes, associated with their environmental heterogeneity, as well as the evolutionary history and physiological differences of each family, which condition the ability of their species to survive or colonize a new biome. .

“Indeed, in addition to ecological specialization, the processes of diversification associated with climate change must also be affected by other factors, which we are still far from fully understanding”adds Emilia Galli, co-author of the book and also a researcher at UCM.

Besides the UCM, the University of Santiago de Cali, the University of Alcalá, the University of Vigo, the University of Oviedo, the University of Castilla-La Mancha, the National Museum of Natural Sciences (CSIC ), the Berlin Museum of Natural History The museum and the company Transmit scienceamong others.

Character font: UCM, DICYT,

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