Configuration of the thermal landscape determines thermoregulatory performance of ectotherms

Michael W. Sears, Michael J. Angilletta, Matthew S. Schuler, Jason Borchert, Katherine F. Dilliplane, Monica Stegman, Travis W. Rusch, William A. Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

204 Scopus citations


Although most organisms thermoregulate behaviorally, biologists still cannot easily predict whether mobile animals will thermoregulate in natural environments. Current models fail because they ignore how the spatial distribution of thermal resources constrains thermoregulatory performance over space and time. To overcome this limitation, we modeled the spatially explicit movements of animals constrained by access to thermal resources. Our models predict that ectotherms thermoregulate more accurately when thermal resources are dispersed throughout space than when these resources are clumped. This prediction was supported by thermoregulatory behaviors of lizards in outdoor arenas with known distributions of environmental temperatures. Further, simulations showed how the spatial structure of the landscape qualitatively affects responses of animals to climate. Biologists will need spatially explicit models to predict impacts of climate change on local scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10595-10600
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
StatePublished - 20 Sep 2016


  • Behavioral thermoregulation
  • Individual-based model
  • Spatial ecology
  • Thermal ecology
  • Thermal heterogeneity


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