It is no longer debated that climate change is affecting the distribution of life on Earth. However, we still lack a thorough understanding of the ecological processes underpinning its effects. Whereas much research has focused on how the changing abiotic environment affects population persistence, there is increasing recognition that interactions among species can also buffer or even exacerbate the effects of climate change. Moreover, most research documenting recent or predicted shifts in species has focused on describing distributions patterns without explicitly accounting for local colonization and extinction dynamics--the underlying processes that generate these shifts. Here, we utilize a dynamic occupancy model that explicitly accounts for the effects of both abiotic and biotic factors on the local colonization-extinction dynamics of species along elevation gradients around the tropics.
We analyzed the dynamics of 51 populations of 43 species of mammals from 7 tropical forests that were surveyd through standardized camera trap protocol. Local extinction and colonization dynamics of the majority of species (83.3%) during a period of 4 – 8 years were better predicted by temperature and/or community composition than by a null model, suggesting an importance of both climate and species interactions in tropical mammal population dynamics. Furthermore, 9 species exhibited significant elevation range shifts that were related to significant interactions between temperature and local community composition. Despite the buffering effects of homothermy, tropical mammals are already exhibiting significant responses to temperature changes, which suggests that threats from climate change are imminent and must be taken into account in conservation planning.