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Survival of climate warming through niche shifts: Evidence from frogs on tropical islands

How will organisms cope when forced into warmer-than-preferred thermal environments? This is a key question facing our ability to monitor and manage biota as average annual temperatures increase, and is of particular concern for range-limited terrestrial species unable to track their preferred climatic envelope. Being ectothermic, desiccation prone, and often spatially restricted, island-inhabiting tropical amphibians exemplify this scenario. Pre-Anthropocene case studies of how insular amphibian populations responded to the enforced occupation of warmer-than-ancestral habitats may add a valuable, but currently lacking, perspective. We studied a population of frogs from the Seychelles endemic family Sooglossidae which, due to historic sea-level rise, have been forced to occupy a significantly warmer island (Praslin) than their ancestors and close living relatives. Evidence from thermal activity patterns, bioacoustics, body size distributions, and ancestral state estimations suggest that this population shifted its thermal niche in response to restricted opportunities for elevational dispersal. Relative to conspecifics, Praslin sooglossids also have divergent nuclear genotypes and call characters, a finding consistent with adaptation causing speciation in a novel thermal environment. Using an evolutionary perspective, our study reveals that some tropical amphibians have survived episodes of historic warming without the aid of dispersal and therefore may have the capacity to adapt to the currently warming climate. However, two otherwise co-distributed sooglossid species are absent from Praslin, and the deep evolutionary divergence between the frogs on Praslin and their closest extant relatives (~8 million years) may have allowed for gradual thermal adaptation and speciation. Thus, local extinction is still a likely outcome for tropical frogs experiencing warming climates in the absence of dispersal corridors to thermal refugia.

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Cite this as

J Labisko; Nancy Bunbury; Richard Griffiths; Jim Groombridge et al. (2021). Survival of climate warming through niche shifts: Evidence from frogs on tropical islands [Data set]. Natural History Museum.
Retrieved: 20:57 12 Apr 2024 (UTC) BibTeX

Additional Info

Field Value
Primary contributors
Labisko, J;
Bunbury, Nancy;
Griffiths, Richard ;
Groombridge, Jim;
Chong-Seng, Lindsay;
Bradfield, Kay;
Streicher, Jeffrey ( 0000-0002-3738-4162)
Other contributors
Last updated October 18, 2021
Last resource update October 18, 2021 (nuDNA PCA )
Created October 7, 2021
License Open Data Commons Attribution License