Modelling microclimates to predict species responses to climate change

Miss Alexandra Gardner1, Dr Ilya Maclean1, Professor Kevin Gaston1

1Environment and Sustainability Institute, University Of Exeter, Penryn, United Kingdom

Species distribution models (SDMs) have played a pivotal role in predicting how species move in response to climate change. To generate reliable and realistic predictions from these models requires the use of climate variables that adequately capture physiological responses of species to climate and therefore provide a proximal link between climate and their distributions. However, the climate variables used in SDMs are often distal to physiological mechanisms of the study species and may therefore overlook important aspects of climate variation that determine where they can survive in the wild. A lack of physiologically-relevant climate data at fine spatial and temporal resolutions is limiting to the wider use of proximal variables in SDMs, but it can be difficult or unrealistic to obtain these data given time and resource constraints. Microclimate models offer a solution to the problem. By downscaling climate data at coarse spatial and temporal resolutions, these models can be used to predict ground-level conditions based on meteorological principles. We present the first work to apply a fine-scale microclimate model across an entire region, using Cornwall, England as our case study. We consider applications of our research in the agricultural sector, to inform important decisions about the most sustainable crops to grow for the future and explore prospects for growing exotic novel species. We show how microclimate may help to improve the reliability of future range predictions from SDMs and support efforts to protect natural and managed species in a changing climate.


Alexandra Gardner is a PhD student at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation in Cornwall, England. She is interested in applying ecological research to find practical solutions to environmental problems, especially those concerned with species’ responses to climate change. For her PhD, she is using the latest in microclimate modelling techniques to explore opportunities for agricultural diversification and the growth of novel crops in a warming world.

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