Climate change may soon threaten much of global biodiversity, especially if species cannot adapt to changing climatic conditions quickly enough. A critical question is how quickly climatic niches change, and if this speed is sufficient to prevent extinction as climates warm. Here, we address this question in the grass family (Poaceae). Grasses are fundamental to one of Earth's most widespread biomes (grasslands), and provide roughly half of all calories consumed by humans (including wheat, rice, corn and sorghum). We estimate rates of climatic niche change in 236 species and compare these with rates of projected climate change by 2070. Our results show that projected climate change is consistently faster than rates of niche change in grasses, typically by more than 5000-fold for temperature-related variables. Although these results do not show directly what will happen under global warming, they have troubling implications for a major biome and for human food resources.
- Received April 30, 2016.
- Accepted September 6, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.