Large scale variation in physiology

Chown, S.L. & Gaston, K.J. 2016. Macrophysiology – progress and prospects. Functional Ecology 30, 330-344. (Image for Shutterstock) shutterstock_70125001

1. Macrophysiology is the investigation of variation in physiological traits over large geographic and temporal scales and the ecological implications of this variation. It has now been undertaken, as a defined field, for a decade.
2. Here, we overview its conceptual foundations, methodological approaches and insights, together with challenges the field is facing currently.
3. Macrophysiology builds on approaches that investigate the ecological and evolutionary significance of physiological trait variation and feedbacks in these processes. One of its key strengths is its ability to provide a basis for examining interactions among the infraspecific, interspecific and assemblage levels.
4. Macrophysiology is distinct from and typically concerns larger spatial and temporal scales than conservation physiology, whereas it is in several respects similar to, but antecedes, functional biogeography. Contrary to some claims, macrophysiology is not concerned only with the implications for geographic ranges of physiological trait variation.
5. Several insights, which would not otherwise have been achieved, have arisen from the field, notably the understanding of variation in global patterns of upper and lower lethal temperature limits and organism performance, which have important implications for forecasting the impacts of climate change.
6. Ten major challenges are identified for the field of macroecology, including better integration of approaches and information for plants and animals. Nonetheless, the prospects for macrophysiology as a significant way to understand our world remain bright.