, Volume 606, Issue 1, pp 139–151 | Cite as

Ecological hindcasting of biogeographic responses to climate change in the European intertidal zone

  • David S. WetheyEmail author
  • Sarah A. Woodin


Intertidal organisms are often assumed to live close to their thermal limits, and have emerged as potential early indicators of the effects of climate change. We compared our survey of the 2004–2006 geographic distribution of the barnacle Semibalanus balanoides to its distribution in 1872, 1955, 1963, 1971, and 1985, from surveys by Fischer, Crisp, Fischer-Piette, Barnes, Powell, and Southward. The southern geographic limit has retreated 300 km in France since 1872, at a rate of 15 to 50 km per decade. We compared our 2006 survey of the geographic distribution of the polychaete Diopatra neapolitana to its distribution in 1893–1923, from surveys by Saint-Joseph and Fauvel, and its distribution in 1969–1976 from surveys by Glémarec. The northern geographic limit of this species has advanced 300 km in France since 1893 at similar rates to Semibalanus. We used NOAA weather reanalysis data and our mechanistic simulation model of intertidal animal body temperatures to hindcast the thermal environmental change near historical geographic limits in Europe for the past 55 years. Results indicate that changes in the southern limit of S. balanoides are due to intolerance of winter body temperatures above 10°C, leading to reproductive failure. Results for Diopatra are ambiguous: based on the northern extension of its range, either cold winters or cool summers limit its range, while gaps in its distribution are consistent with limitation by cooler summer conditions. The parallel shifts of D. neapolitana on sedimentary shores and Semibalanus on rocky shores suggest that similar climatic factors control the geographic limits of both species. The intertidal zone is a model system for examining the effects of climate change on biogeographic change both because of the rapidity of its response, and because the rich historical record allows direct tests of hypotheses.


Biogeography Climate change Barnacle Polychaete Semibalanus balanoides Diopatra neapolitana 



Supported by grants from NASA (NNG04GE43G) and NOAA (NA04NOS4780264). We thank Brian Helmuth, Jerry Hilbish, Venkat Lakshmi, Sarah Gilman, Nova Mieszkowska, Sierra Jones, Kyle Aveni-Deforge, Sarah Berke, Lindsay Brin and Alan Southward for stimulating discussions. Sarah Berke and Nova Mieszkowska provided assistance in the field. Two anonymous reviewers, Fernando Lima, Teresa Cruz, and Ruth O’Riordan provided helpful suggestions and information on additional literature.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

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