Xinru Wan. Broad-scale climate variation drives the dynamics of animal populations: a global multi-taxa analysis.
Data analysis: Meta-Analysis
Climate is a major extrinsic factor affecting the population dynamics of many organisms. The Broad-Scale Climate Hypothesis (BSCH) was proposed by Elton to explain the large-scale synchronous population cycles of animals, but the extent of support and whether it differs among taxa and geographical regions is unclear. We reviewed publications examining the relationship between the population dynamics of multiple taxa worldwide and the two most commonly used broad-scale climate indices, El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Our review and synthesis (based on 561 species from 221 papers) reveals that population changes of mammals, birds and insects are strongly affected by major oceanic shifts or irregular oceanic changes, particularly in ENSO- and NAO-influenced regions (Pacific and Atlantic, respectively), providing clear evidence supporting Elton's BSCH. Mammal and insect populations tended to increase during positive ENSO phases. Bird populations tended to increase in positive NAO phases. Some species showed dual associations with both positive and negative phases of the same climate index (ENSO or NAO). These findings indicate that some taxa or regions are more or less vulnerable to climate fluctuations and that some geographical areas show multiple weather effects related to ENSO or NAO phases. Beyond confirming that animal populations are influenced by broad-scale climate variation, we document extensive patterns of variation among taxa and observe that the direct biotic and abiotic mechanisms for these broad-scale climate factors affecting animal populations are very poorly understood. A practical implication of our research is that changes in ENSO or NAO can be used as early signals for pest management and wildlife conservation. We advocate integrative studies at both broad and local scales to unravel the omnipresent effects of climate on animal populations to help address the challenge of conserving biodiversity in this era of accelerated climate change.