What is it about?

We looked at the capacity of life to respond to future climates in three different regions: temperate and subtropical regions, and in deserts. We discovered a strong association between number of genes responding to projected temperatures and heat tolerance. The “winners” – those best at adapting to projected summer temperatures – evolved in the warm, subtropical regions. Those that evolved in cooler temperate ecosystems – the “losers” – risk becoming extinct. Desert species, which are predicted to be exposed to more extreme heatwaves and longer droughts in the future, are also vulnerable.

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Why is it important?

Our findings indicate that resilience or vulnerability to rising temperatures is expected to be influenced by geographic factors, such as the climatic region where species evolved. This information will help identify the types of biodiversity and ecosystems at high risk of extinction and to develop ways to help them to adapt and survive. The implications of our study can be extended to many non-migratory animals and plants – aquatic and terrestrial – under pressure due to climate change.


This study was developed over 10+ years of work in my lab, and included collaborators from Canada and Austria. It opened new perspectives and research fields for the lab, such as thermal biology and comparative transcriptomics. It provides a good example of the application of natural history to study adaptive capacity in future climates. The plan is to extend this work by adding information from organisms from tropical and equatorial ecosystems.

Luciano Beheregaray
Flinders University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Adaptation of plasticity to projected maximum temperatures and across climatically defined bioregions, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1921124117.
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