Recent approaches have used mathematical models to quantify heat flux between organisms and the environment using microclimate and climate data. These models play an increasingly vital role in improving our understanding of the biogeography and life history of many organisms, from plants to snails to elk. Climate data that must be collected for the models include air temperature, wind speed, solar radiation, cloud cover, and humidity in the vicinity of the organism in question.
The accuracy of the output from these models can be within 1-2 °C when compared to body temperature data collected at the same time from actual organisms. Because collecting data at the scale of the organism is often not practical, new ways have been developed to take factors such as substratum angle into account so that large-scale models of climate may be scaled to microclimatic levels.
There are many applications for mathematical models and an even greater number of ecological questions that can be explored. Some of the applications include: (1) generate and test hypothesis about where and when organism distributions are limited by aspects of their microhabitat (vs. the presence of predators or competitors); (2) hindcast past environmental conditions using historical climate data and make comparisons against historical changes in species distributions; (3) make short-term body temperature and microclimate forecasts to predict where physiological stress is most likely to occur; and (4) explore future climate conditions under a context of global climate change to determine the possible impacts on the physiological state and biogeography of different species.
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