The potential for behavioral thermoregulation to buffer "cold-blooded" animals against climate warming

Michael Kearney*, Richard Shine, Warren P. Porter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

834 Citations (Scopus)


Increasing concern about the impacts of global warming on biodiversity has stimulated extensive discussion, but methods to translate broad-scale shifts in climate into direct impacts on living animals remain simplistic. A key missing element from models of climatic change impacts on animals is the buffering influence of behavioral thermoregulation. Here, we show how behavioral and mass/energy balance models can be combined with spatial data on climate, topography, and vegetation to predict impacts of increased air temperature on thermoregulating ectotherms such as reptiles and insects (a large portion of global biodiversity). We show that for most "cold-blooded" terrestrial animals, the primary thermal challenge is not to attain high body temperatures (although this is important in temperate environments) but to stay cool (particularly in tropical and desert areas, where ectotherm biodiversity is greatest). The impact of climate warming on thermoregulating ectotherms will depend critically on how changes in vegetation cover alter the availability of shade as well as the animals' capacities to alter their seasonal timing of activity and reproduction. Warmer environments also may increase maintenance energy costs while simultaneously constraining activity time, putting pressure on mass and energy budgets. Energy- and mass-balance models provide a general method to integrate the complexity of these direct interactions between organisms and climate into spatial predictions of the impact of climate change on biodiversity. This methodology allows quantitative organism- and habitat-specific assessments of climate change impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3835-3840
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • biophysical model
  • climate change
  • terrestrial ectotherm
  • GIS


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