Equivocal support for the climate variability hypothesis within a Neotropical bird assemblage

Henry S. Pollock, Cameron L. Rutt, William Justin Cooper, Jeffrey D. Brawn, Zachary A. Cheviron, David A. Luther

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The climate variability hypothesis posits that an organism's exposure to temperature variability determines the breadth of its thermal tolerance and has become an important framework for understanding variation in species' susceptibilities to climate change. For example, ectotherms from more thermally stable environments tend to have narrower thermal tolerances and greater sensitivity to projected climate warming. Among endotherms, however, the relationship between climate variability and thermal physiology is less clear, particularly with regard to microclimate variation—small-scale differences within or between habitats. To address this gap, we explored associations between two sources of temperature variation (habitat type and vertical forest stratum) and (1) thermal physiological traits and (2) temperature sensitivity metrics within a diverse assemblage of Neotropical birds (n = 89 species). We used long-term temperature data to establish that daily temperature regimes in open habitats and forest canopy were both hotter and more variable than those in the forest interior and forest understory, respectively. Despite these differences in temperature regime, however, we found little evidence that species' thermal physiological traits or temperature sensitivity varied in association with either habitat type or vertical stratum. Our findings provide two novel and important insights. First, and in contrast to the supporting empirical evidence from ectotherms, the thermal physiology of birds at our study site appears to be largely decoupled from local temperature variation, providing equivocal support for the climate variability hypothesis in endotherms. Second, we found no evidence that the thermal physiology of understory forest birds differed from that of canopy or open-habitat species—an oft-invoked, yet previously untested, mechanism for why these species are so vulnerable to environmental change.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4206
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Neotropics
  • birds
  • climate change
  • endotherms
  • environmental temperature
  • microclimate hypothesis
  • thermal tolerance
  • Temperature
  • Forests
  • Birds
  • Animals
  • Climate Change
  • Ecosystem


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