The roles of microclimatic diversity and of behavior in mediating the responses of ectotherms to climate change

H. Arthur Woods, Michael E. Dillon, Sylvain Pincebourde

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

202 Scopus citations


We analyze the effects of changing patterns of thermal availability, in space and time, on the performance of small ectotherms. We approach this problem by breaking it into a series of smaller steps, focusing on: (1) how macroclimates interact with living and nonliving objects in the environment to produce a mosaic of thermal microclimates and (2) how mobile ectotherms filter those microclimates into realized body temperatures by moving around in them. Although the first step (generation of mosaics) is conceptually straightforward, there still exists no general framework for predicting spatial and temporal patterns of microclimatic variation. We organize potential variation along three axes-the nature of the objects producing the microclimates (abiotic versus biotic), how microclimates translate macroclimatic variation (amplify versus buffer), and the temporal and spatial scales over which microclimatic conditions vary (long versus short). From this organization, we propose several general rules about patterns of microclimatic diversity. To examine the second step (behavioral sampling of locally available microclimates), we construct a set of models that simulate ectotherms moving on a thermal landscape according to simple sets of diffusion-based rules. The models explore the effects of both changes in body size (which affect the time scale over which organisms integrate operative body temperatures) and increases in the mean and variance of temperature on the thermal landscape. Collectively, the models indicate that both simple behavioral rules and interactions between body size and spatial patterns of thermal variation can profoundly affect the distribution of realized body temperatures experienced by ectotherms. These analyses emphasize the rich set of problems still to solve before arriving at a general, predictive theory of the biological consequences of climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-97
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Thermal Biology
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Behavior
  • Climate change
  • Ectotherms
  • Microclimate
  • Temperature
  • Thermal Performance curve
  • Thermoregulation


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