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The effects of climate change in the tropics are manifesting as changes in species abundances, shifts in ranges, and changes in the timing of life history events, like fruiting and flowering of trees, according to a literature review published in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics and authored by a UT professor.

Climate plays a major role in the distribution and abundance of species, and climate change will likely alter life in the tropics.

“One of the clearest signals of the impact of climate change in the tropics has been the up-slope movement of a variety of species,” said Kimberly Sheldon, author of the review and assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “With warming, we would predict species would move toward higher elevations, and we see that tropical birds, moths, trees, and herpetofauna are all shifting up-slope.”

The review summarizes the current knowledge on impacts of climate change in tropical regions and discusses research priorities to better understand how species and ecological communities are responding to climate change in the most bio-diverse places on earth.

“Many studies show correlations between changes in climate and biotic responses in the tropics, but we need more alternative hypothesis testing to rule out other causes, such as land-use change and invasive species, and clarify the role of climate change in species responses,” said Sheldon.

For the review, Sheldon analyzed studies examining responses of low-latitude species, communities, and ecosystems to climate change. She then summarized the current knowledge on tropical climate change responses and identified gaps in understanding.

“Because temperature changes are expected to be greatest at higher latitudes, climate change reviews have focused on temperate and polar regions. However, climate change is more than just temperature change, and tropical species are expected to be particularly sensitive to perturbations. My review focused solely on the impacts of climate change in the tropics where biodiversity is greatest and where impacts may also be greatest,” said Sheldon.


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