Tropical species with narrow elevational ranges may be thermally specialized and vulnerable to global warming. Local studies of distributions along elevational gradients reveal small-scale patterns but do not allow generalizations among geographic regions or taxa. We critically assessed data from 249 studies of species elevational distributions in the American, African, and Asia-Pacific tropics. Of these, 150 had sufficient data quality, sampling intensity, elevational range, and freedom from serious habitat disturbance to permit robust across-study comparisons. We found four main patterns: (1) species classified as elevational specialists (upper- or lower-zone specialists) are relatively more frequent in the American than Asia-Pacific tropics, with African tropics being intermediate; (2) elevational specialists are rare on islands, especially oceanic and smaller continental islands, largely due to a paucity of upper-zone specialists; (3) a relatively high proportion of plants and ectothermic vertebrates (amphibians and reptiles) are upper-zone specialists; and (4) relatively few endothermic vertebrates (birds and mammals) are upper-zone specialists. Understanding these broad-scale trends will help identify taxa and geographic regions vulnerable to global warming and highlight future research priorities.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation