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Chasing a changing climate: Reproductive and dispersal traits predict how sessile species respond to global warming

June 5, 2018


Studies of species' range shifts have become increasingly relevant for understanding ecology and biogeography in the face of accelerated global change. The combination of limited mobility and imperilled status places some species at a potentially greater risk of range loss, extirpation or extinction due to climate change. To assess the ability of organisms with limited movement and dispersal capabilities to track shifts associated with climate change, we evaluated reproductive and dispersal traits of freshwater mussels (Unionida), sessile invertebrates that require species‐specific fish for larval dispersal.


North American Atlantic Slope rivers.


To understand how unionid mussels may cope with and adapt to current and future warming trends, we identified mechanisms that facilitated their colonization of the northern Atlantic Slope river basins in North America after the Last Glacial Maximum. We compiled species occurrence and life history trait information for each of 55 species, and then selected life history traits for which ample data were available (larval brooding duration, host fish specificity, host infection strategy, and body size) and analysed whether the trait state for each was related to mussel distribution in Atlantic Slope rivers.


Brooding duration (p < .01) and host fish specificity (p = .02) were significantly related to mussel species distribution. Long‐term brooders were more likely than short‐term brooders to colonize formerly glaciated rivers, as were host generalists compared to specialists. Body size and host infection strategy were not predictive of movement into formerly glaciated rivers (p > .10).

Main conclusions

Our results are potentially applicable to many species for which life history traits have not been well‐documented, because reproductive and dispersal traits in unionid mussels typically follow phylogenetic relationships. These findings may help resource managers prioritize species according to climate change vulnerability and predict which species might become further imperilled with climate warming. Finally, we suggest that similar trait‐based decision support frameworks may be applicable for other movement limited taxa.

Publication Year 2018
Title Chasing a changing climate: Reproductive and dispersal traits predict how sessile species respond to global warming
DOI 10.1111/ddi.12740
Authors Jennifer M. Archambault, W. Gregory Cope, Thomas J. Kwak
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Diversity and Distributions
Index ID 70197464
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Atlanta