Habitat microclimates drive fine-scale variation in extreme temperatures

Andrew J. Suggitt*, Phillipa K. Gillingham, Jane K. Hill, Brian Huntley, William E. Kunin, David B. Roy, Chris D. Thomas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

392 Citations (Scopus)


Most multicellular terrestrial organisms experience climate at scales of millimetres to metres, yet most species-climate associations are analysed at resolutions of kilometres or more. Because individuals experience heterogeneous microclimates in the landscape, species sometimes survive where the average background climate appears unsuitable, and equally may be eliminated from sites within apparently suitable grid cells where microclimatic extremes are intolerable. Local vegetation structure and topography can be important determinants of fine-resolution microclimate, but a literature search revealed that the vast majority of bioclimate studies do not include fine-scale habitat information, let alone a representation of how habitat affects microclimate. In this paper, we show that habitat type (grassland, heathland, deciduous woodland) is a major modifier of the temperature extremes experienced by organisms. We recorded differences among these habitats of more than 5°C in monthly temperature maxima and minima, and of 10°C in thermal range, on a par with the level of warming expected for extreme future climate change scenarios. Comparable differences were found in relation to variation in local topography (slope and aspect). Hence, we argue that the microclimatic effects of habitat and topography must be included in studies if we are to obtain sufficiently detailed projections of the ecological impacts of climate change to develop detailed adaptation strategies for the conservation of biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Early online date16 Dec 2010
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


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