Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Tropic of Cancer


In the Northern Hemisphere, springtime events are frequently reported as advancing more rapidly at higher latitudes, presumably due to an acceleration of warming with latitude. However, this assumption has not been investigated in an analytical framework that simultaneously examines acceleration of warming with latitude while accounting for variation in phenological time series characteristics that might also co-vary with latitude. We analyzed 743 phenological trend estimates spanning 86 years and 42.6 degrees of latitude in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as rates of Northern Hemisphere warming over the same period and latitudinal range. We detected significant patterns of co-variation in phenological time series characteristics that may confound estimates of the magnitude of variation in trends with latitude. Notably, shorter and more recent time series tended to produce the strongest phenological trends, and these also tended to be from higher latitude studies. However, accounting for such variation only slightly modified the relationship between rates of phenological advance and latitude, which was highly significant. Furthermore, warming has increased non-linearly with latitude over the past several decades, most strongly since 1998 and northward of 59°N latitude. The acceleration of warming with latitude has likely contributed to an acceleration of phenological advance along the same gradient.

Concepts: Climate, Tropic of Cancer, Equator, Southern Hemisphere


Many of the world’s languages face serious risk of extinction. Efforts to prevent this cultural loss are severely constrained by a poor understanding of the geographical patterns and drivers of extinction risk. We quantify the global distribution of language extinction risk-represented by small range and speaker population sizes and rapid declines in the number of speakers-and identify the underlying environmental and socioeconomic drivers. We show that both small range and speaker population sizes are associated with rapid declines in speaker numbers, causing 25% of existing languages to be threatened based on criteria used for species. Language range and population sizes are small in tropical and arctic regions, particularly in areas with high rainfall, high topographic heterogeneity and/or rapidly growing human populations. By contrast, recent speaker declines have mainly occurred at high latitudes and are strongly linked to high economic growth. Threatened languages are numerous in the tropics, the Himalayas and northwestern North America. These results indicate that small-population languages remaining in economically developed regions are seriously threatened by continued speaker declines. However, risks of future language losses are especially high in the tropics and in the Himalayas, as these regions harbour many small-population languages and are undergoing rapid economic growth.

Concepts: Tropics, Geographical zone, Tropic of Cancer, Economics, Endangered species, Economic growth, Tropical climate, Equator


Zika virus co-circulates with dengue in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Cases of co-infection by dengue and Zika have been reported, the implication of this co-infection for an integrated intervention program for controlling both dengue and Zika must be addressed urgently. Here, we formulate a mathematical model to describe the transmission dynamics of co-infection of dengue and Zika with particular focus on the effects of Zika outbreak by vaccination against dengue among human hosts. Our analysis determines specific conditions under which vaccination against dengue can significantly increase the Zika outbreak peak, and speed up the Zika outbreak peak timing. Our results call for further study about the co-infection to direct an integrated control to balance the benefits for dengue control and the damages of Zika outbreak.

Concepts: Mathematics, Tropics, Tropic of Cancer, Control, Mathematical model, Dengue, Zika fever


Evidence increasingly suggests that as climate warms, some plant, animal, and human populations may move to preserve their environmental temperature. The distances they must travel to do this depends on how much cooler nearby surfaces temperatures are. Because large-scale atmospheric dynamics constrain surface temperatures to be nearly uniform near the equator, these displacements can grow to extreme distances in the tropics, even under relatively mild warming scenarios. Here we show that in order to preserve their annual mean temperatures, tropical populations would have to travel distances greater than 1000 km over less than a century if global mean temperature rises by 2 °C over the same period. The disproportionately rapid evacuation of the tropics under such a scenario would cause migrants to concentrate in tropical margins and the subtropics, where population densities would increase 300% or more. These results may have critical consequences for ecosystem and human wellbeing in tropical contexts where alternatives to geographic displacement are limited.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Earth, Tropics, Geographical zone, Tropic of Cancer, Equator, Tropic of Capricorn


Global ocean temperatures rapidly warmed by ~5°C during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM; ~56 million years ago). Extratropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs) met or exceeded modern subtropical values. With these warm extratropical temperatures, climate models predict tropical SSTs >35°C-near upper physiological temperature limits for many organisms. However, few data are available to test these projected extreme tropical temperatures or their potential lethality. We identify the PETM in a shallow marine sedimentary section deposited in Nigeria. On the basis of planktonic foraminiferal Mg/Ca and oxygen isotope ratios and the molecular proxy [Formula: see text], latest Paleocene equatorial SSTs were ~33°C, and [Formula: see text] indicates that SSTs rose to >36°C during the PETM. This confirms model predictions on the magnitude of polar amplification and refutes the tropical thermostat theory. We attribute a massive drop in dinoflagellate abundance and diversity at peak warmth to thermal stress, showing that the base of tropical food webs is vulnerable to rapid warming.

Concepts: Oxygen, Tropics, Geographical zone, Tropic of Cancer, Temperature, Heat, Ocean, Sea surface temperature


Among the most enduring ecological challenges is an integrated theory explaining the latitudinal biodiversity gradient, including discrepancies observed at different spatial scales. Analysis of Reef Life Survey data for 4127 marine species at 2406 coral and rocky sites worldwide confirms that the total ecoregion richness peaks in low latitudes, near +15°N and -15°S. However, although richness at survey sites is maximal near the equator for vertebrates, it peaks at high latitudes for large mobile invertebrates. Site richness for different groups is dependent on abundance, which is in turn correlated with temperature for fishes and nutrients for macroinvertebrates. We suggest that temperature-mediated fish predation and herbivory have constrained mobile macroinvertebrate diversity at the site scale across the tropics. Conversely, at the ecoregion scale, richness responds positively to coral reef area, highlighting potentially huge global biodiversity losses with coral decline. Improved conservation outcomes require management frameworks, informed by hierarchical monitoring, that cover differing site- and regional-scale processes across diverse taxa, including attention to invertebrate species, which appear disproportionately threatened by warming seas.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Ecology, Tropics, Tropic of Cancer, Invertebrate, Equator, Latitude


A likely consequence of global warming will be the redistribution of Earth’s rain belts, affecting water availability for many of Earth’s inhabitants. We consider three ways in which planetary warming might influence the global distribution of precipitation. The first possibility is that rainfall in the tropics will increase and that the subtropics and mid-latitudes will become more arid. A second possibility is that Earth’s thermal equator, around which the planet’s rain belts and dry zones are organized, will migrate northward. This northward shift will be a consequence of the Northern Hemisphere, with its large continental area, warming faster than the Southern Hemisphere, with its large oceanic area. A third possibility is that both of these scenarios will play out simultaneously. We review paleoclimate evidence suggesting that (i) the middle latitudes were wetter during the last glacial maximum, (ii) a northward shift of the thermal equator attended the abrupt Bølling-Allerød climatic transition ~14.6 thousand years ago, and (iii) a southward shift occurred during the more recent Little Ice Age. We also inspect trends in seasonal surface heating between the hemispheres over the past several decades. From these clues, we predict that there will be a seasonally dependent response in rainfall patterns to global warming. During boreal summer, in which the rate of recent warming has been relatively uniform between the hemispheres, wet areas will get wetter and dry regions will become drier. During boreal winter, rain belts and drylands will expand northward in response to differential heating between the hemispheres.

Concepts: Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Tropic of Cancer, Season, Ice age, Global warming, Equator


Temporally inconsistent and potentially unreliable global historical data hinder the detection of trends in tropical cyclone activity. This limits our confidence in evaluating proposed linkages between observed trends in tropical cyclones and in the environment. Here we mitigate this difficulty by focusing on a metric that is comparatively insensitive to past data uncertainty, and identify a pronounced poleward migration in the average latitude at which tropical cyclones have achieved their lifetime-maximum intensity over the past 30 years. The poleward trends are evident in the global historical data in both the Northern and the Southern hemispheres, with rates of 53 and 62 kilometres per decade, respectively, and are statistically significant. When considered together, the trends in each hemisphere depict a global-average migration of tropical cyclone activity away from the tropics at a rate of about one degree of latitude per decade, which lies within the range of estimates of the observed expansion of the tropics over the same period. The global migration remains evident and statistically significant under a formal data homogenization procedure, and is unlikely to be a data artefact. The migration away from the tropics is apparently linked to marked changes in the mean meridional structure of environmental vertical wind shear and potential intensity, and can plausibly be linked to tropical expansion, which is thought to have anthropogenic contributions.

Concepts: Tropic of Cancer, Thunderstorm, Tropical cyclone, Tornado, Cyclone, Wind, Equator, Wind shear


Volcanic eruptions contribute to climate variability, but quantifying these contributions has been limited by inconsistencies in the timing of atmospheric volcanic aerosol loading determined from ice cores and subsequent cooling from climate proxies such as tree rings. Here we resolve these inconsistencies and show that large eruptions in the tropics and high latitudes were primary drivers of interannual-to-decadal temperature variability in the Northern Hemisphere during the past 2,500 years. Our results are based on new records of atmospheric aerosol loading developed from high-resolution, multi-parameter measurements from an array of Greenland and Antarctic ice cores as well as distinctive age markers to constrain chronologies. Overall, cooling was proportional to the magnitude of volcanic forcing and persisted for up to ten years after some of the largest eruptive episodes. Our revised timescale more firmly implicates volcanic eruptions as catalysts in the major sixth-century pandemics, famines, and socioeconomic disruptions in Eurasia and Mesoamerica while allowing multi-millennium quantification of climate response to volcanic forcing.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Tropic of Cancer, Season, Antarctica, Ice core, Equator, Latitude


High tropical species diversity is often attributed to evolutionary dynamics over long timescales. It is possible, however, that latitudinal variation in diversification begins when divergence occurs within species. Phylogeographic data capture this initial stage of diversification in which populations become geographically isolated and begin to differentiate genetically. There is limited understanding of the broader implications of intraspecific diversification because comparative analyses have focused on species inhabiting and evolving in restricted regions and environments. Here, we scale comparative phylogeography up to the hemisphere level and examine whether the processes driving latitudinal differences in species diversity are also evident within species. We collected genetic data for 210 New World bird species distributed across a broad latitudinal gradient and estimated a suite of metrics characterizing phylogeographic history. We found that lower latitude species had, on average, greater phylogeographic diversity than higher latitude species and that intraspecific diversity showed evidence of greater persistence in the tropics. Factors associated with species ecologies, life histories, and habitats explained little of the variation in phylogeographic structure across the latitudinal gradient. Our results suggest that the latitudinal gradient in species richness originates, at least partly, from population-level processes within species and are consistent with hypotheses implicating age and environmental stability in the formation of diversity gradients. Comparative phylogeographic analyses scaled up to large geographic regions and hundreds of species can show connections between population-level processes and broad-scale species-richness patterns.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Tropics, Tropic of Cancer, Biogeography