Climate warming and the decline of amphibians and reptiles in Europe

Aim We explore the relationship between current European distributions of amphibian and reptile species and observed climate, and project species potential distributions into the future. Potential impacts of climate warming are assessed by quantifying the magnitude and direction of modelled distributional shifts for every species. In particular we ask, first, what proportion of amphibian and reptile species are projected to lose and gain suitable climate space in the future? Secondly, do species projections vary according to taxonomic, spatial or environmental properties? And thirdly, what climate factors might be driving projections of loss or gain in suitable environments for species? Location Europe. Methods Distributions of species are modelled with four species–climate envelope techniques (artificial neural networks, generalized linear models, generalized additive models, and classification tree analyses) and distributions are projected into the future using five climate-change scenarios for 2050. Future projections are made considering two extreme assumptions: species have unlimited dispersal ability and species have no dispersal ability. A novel hybrid approach for combining ensembles of forecasts is then used to group linearly covarying projections into clusters with reduced inter-model variability. Results We show that a great proportion of amphibian and reptile species are projected to expand distributions if dispersal is unlimited. This is because warming in the cooler northern ranges of species creates new opportunities for colonization. If species are unable to disperse, then most species are projected to lose range. Loss of suitable climate space for species is projected to occur mainly in the south-west of Europe, including the Iberian Peninsula, whilst species in the south-east are projected to gain suitable climate. This is because dry conditions in the south-west are projected to increase, approaching the levels found in North Africa, where few amphibian species are able to persist. Main conclusions The impact of increasing temperatures on amphibian and reptile species may be less deleterious than previously postulated; indeed, climate cooling would be more deleterious for the persistence of amphibian and reptile species than warming. The ability of species to cope with climate warming may, however, be offset by projected decreases in the availability of water. This should be particularly true for amphibians. Limited dispersal ability may further increase the vulnerability of amphibians and reptiles to changes in climate.