- We know many species can live at much colder or warmer temperatures than humans.
- This means biological processes increase in line with temperature, reach a maximum, and then rapidly decline when it gets too hot.
- When the number of species was plotted against the average annual temperature, there was a decline above 20°C.
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Biological processes and biodiversity
- Research in Tasmania modelled the growth rates of microbes and multi-cellular organisms and found the most stable temperature for their biological processes was also 20°C.
- This “Corkrey model” built on other studies showing 20°C was the most stable temperature for biological molecules.
marine and freshwater species’ tolerance of low oxygen
marine pelagic (open water living) and benthic (seabed living) algal productivity and fish predation rates on bait
global species richness in pelagic fishes, plankton, benthic invertebrates and fossil molluscs
and genetic diversity.
There were also increased extinctions in the fossil record when temperatures exceeded 20°C.
Increased species richness
- While many species have evolved to live at warmer and colder temperatures, most species live at 20°C.
- As species evolve to live at temperatures above and below 20°C, their thermal niche gets wider.
- In turn, this should maximise species richness across all domains of life, from bacteria to the multi-cellular plants and animals.
Predicting the effects of climate change
- This means the many marine species that can adapt to global warming by shifting their geographic distribution are unlikely to go extinct due to climate change.
- Despite the complexity of multi-cellular species, it is remarkable that the cellular-level temperature efficiencies are reflected in those other aspects of biodiversity.
- Exactly why 20°C is pivotal and energy-efficient for cellular processes may be due to the molecular properties of water associated with cells.
Mark John Costello received funding from the Royal Society of New Zealand-Te Apārangi that contributed to this research.. Ross Corkrey does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.