In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Microclimate Ecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Solar Radiation and Terrain
  • Longwave Radiation
  • Wind Speed
  • Air Temperature
  • Snow and Its Influence on Microclimates
  • Measuring Microclimates
  • Modeling Microclimate
  • Microclimate Datasets
  • Forest Microclimates
  • Desert Microclimates
  • Alpine Microclimates
  • Aquatic Microclimates
  • Microclimates and Species Distribution Modeling
  • Microclimates and Climate Change

Ecology Microclimate Ecology
Michael Kearney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0194


Microclimates are the thermal, hydric, and radiative conditions in the first meter or so above and below the earth’s surface—“the climate near the ground.” The topic encompasses a wide range of physical processes including the effects of terrain and vegetation on radiation, air temperature, wind speed, and humidity as well as the dynamics of soil temperature, soil moisture and snow. An understanding of microclimates is of fundamental importance in ecology because it represents the physical conditions actually experienced by organisms. In turn, these conditions constrain the energy and mass budgets of organisms and ultimately their behavior, distribution, and abundance. Organisms can also have a strong influence on microclimates through their morphology, physiology, and the structures they create. The study of microclimates was pioneered in agronomy but was a core topic in the early days of ecological research. There have been two resurgences in ecological microclimate research, one associated with the development of the field of biophysical ecology in the 1970s and 1980s, and the other as a natural extension to the field of correlative species distribution modeling in the 21st century. The need to understand the biotic consequences of climate change is driving much of early-21st-century research on microclimates in ecology, and the capacity to measure and model microclimates is developing rapidly. The interdisciplinary nature and long history of research into the topic of microclimates leads to a vast literature, with this article aiming to provide key entry points relevant to ecologists.

General Overviews

There are many excellent books providing overviews of microclimates and the key physical processes they involve. The classic text is Geiger, et al. 2003, often referred to as the “Bible of Climatology.” Other accessible overviews can be found in Oke 1992, Campbell and Norman 1998, and Monteith and Unsworth 2013. Jones 1992 (cited under Plants) is also an accessible introduction. The most recently published book on the topic is Barry and Blanken 2016.

  • Barry, R. G., and P. D. Blanken. 2016. Microclimate and local climate. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781316535981

    A general overview covering physical and biological processes influencing microclimates. Includes up-to-date summaries of current techniques in microclimate measurement as well as an overview of microclimates and climate change.

  • Campbell, G. S., and J. M. Norman. 1998. An introduction to environmental biophysics. 2d ed. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4612-1626-1

    An excellent introduction to core physical processes driving microclimatic variation, including chapters on soil temperature and soil moisture as well as biotic influences and responses. This book has conceptual depth but is comparatively brief and succinct, and is therefore an effective primer for the field.

  • Geiger, R., R. H. Aron, and P. Todhunter. 2003. The climate near the ground. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.

    First published in 1927 by Rudolf Geiger. A very comprehensive overview of microclimates with extensive, detailed examples. Includes sections on forest climates, the effects of topography, and the microclimates relevant to and constructed by animals, including humans.

  • Monteith, J. L., and M. H. Unsworth. 2013. Principles of environmental physics: Plants, animals, and the atmosphere. 4th ed. Oxford: Academic Press.

    First published in 1973 with a focus on agricultural applications, this book has evolved to focus more generally on environmental science. It has an excellent treatment of both the physical theory behind microclimates and the connection with plants, animals, and ecosystem processes.

  • Oke, T. R. 1992. Boundary layer climates. London: Routledge.

    Emphasizes the connection between atmospheric processes in iteration with surface features, and provides connections between “topoclimate” (kilometer scale) to microclimate (meter scale). Includes chapters on animal and plant climates, human-modified environments, and atmospheric pollution.

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