Making a difference: comparative biologists tackle climate change

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For many, 2020 was notorious for the COVID-19 pandemic, but for climate scientists, the year is also infamous for tying with 2016 as the hottest since records began. ‘Nine of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2010’, says JEB Editor-in-Chief, Craig Franklin. With the ice caps and glaciers melting, devastating bushfires scorching arid regions, and hurricanes and typhoons battering coastal communities, the impact on local ecosystems has been catastrophic. ‘Physiologists can play a critical role in the conversation around climate change’, says Franklin, explaining that knowledge of physiology ideally positions comparative physiologists to predict the impact of climate change on species and to inform conservation policy and action.

Franklin and Hans Hoppeler (JEB Editor-in-Chief, 2004-2020) have commissioned a series of review articles dedicated to strategies for, and predictions of, the impact of climate change on ecosystems across the globe. The collection discusses our current understanding of the physiological impact of the climate crisis and the lessons that will inform biodiversity management and conservation in the coming decade.

Looking to the future, Franklin is optimistic. ‘Physiologists and experimental biologists can make valuable contributions to our understanding of threats to biodiversity’, he says, adding that comparative physiologists can clearly make pivotal contributions to the dialogue surrounding conservation. Understanding the interactions between animals and their environments and how those will change as temperatures rise, climate patterns change and population distributions shift, is essential for building policies to protect keystone and vulnerable species alike. From Diamond and Martin’s review detailing the lessons that we can learn from urban heat islands to Putnam’s optimism for the future of corals, this collection of reviews provides a foundation for comparative physiologists to build on as the vanguard in the battle to protect biodiversity. ‘We see this as an important special issue. We know we are imperilled by climate change, but this collection of articles talks about what we should be doing in the future to protect the planet’, says Franklin.

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The collection includes the flowing articles:

Strategies for predicting the future:

Climate impacts on organisms, ecosystems and human societies: integrating OCLTT into a wider context, by Pörtner, H.O. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb238360. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.238360.

Physiological adaptation to cities as a proxy to forecast global-scale responses to climate change, by Diamond, S.E. and Martin, R.A. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb229336. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.229336.

Towards more integration of physiology, dispersal and land-use change to understand species responses to climate change, by Hof, C. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb238352. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.238352.

Prediction case studies: reptiles:

Predicting the effects of climate change on incubation in reptiles: methodological advances and new directions, by Carter, A.L. and Janzen, F.J. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb236018. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.236018.

Diving in hot water: a meta-analytic review of how diving vertebrate ectotherms will fare in a warmer world, by Rodgers, E.M., Franklin, C.E. and Noble, D.W.A. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb228213. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.228213.

Prediction case studies: mammals

How dryland mammals will respond to climate change: the effects of body size, heat load, and a lack of food and water, by Fuller, A., Mitchell, D., Maloney, S.K., Hetem, R.S., Fonseca, V.F.C., Meyer, L.C.R., van de Ven, T.M.F.N. and Snelling, E.P. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb238113. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.238113.

Physiological consequences of Arctic sea ice loss on large marine carnivores: unique responses by polar bears and narwhals, by Pagano, A.M. and Williams, T.M. (2021). J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb228049. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.228049.

Prediction case study: birds

Thermoregulation in desert birds: scaling and phylogenetic variation in heat tolerance and evaporative cooling, by McKechnie, A.E., Gerson, A.R. and Wolf, B.O. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb229211. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.229211.

Prediction case studies: insects

Dealing with predictable and unpredictable temperatures in a climate change context: the case of parasitoids and their hosts, by Le Lann, C., van Baaren, J. and Visser, B. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb238626. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.238626.

Shifts in the relative fitness contributions of fecundity and survival in variable and changing environments, by Buckley, L.B., Schoville, S.D. and Williams, C.M. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb228031. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.228031.

Prediction case study: aquatic species

The role of mechanistic physiology in investigating impacts of global warming on fishes, by Lefevre, S., Wang, T. and McKenzie, D.J. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb238840. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.238840.

Bioenergetics in environmental adaptation and stress tolerance of aquatic ectotherms: linking physiology and ecology in a multistressor landscape, by Sokolova, I. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb236802. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.236802.

Avenues of reef-building coral acclimatization in response to rapid environmental change, by Putnam, H.M. J. Exp. Biol. 224, jeb239319. Doi: 10.1242/jeb.239319.

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