Biotic responses to future changes in global climate are difficult to project for a particular region because the responses involve processes that operate at many spatial scales. This difficulty is exacerbated in mountainous regions, where future vegetation changes are often portrayed as simple upward displacements of vegetation zones in response to warming. We examine the scope of future responses that may occur in a mountainous area by illustrating the potential distributions of selected tree taxa in the region of Yellowstone National Park. The output of a coarse‐resolution climate model that incorporated a doubling of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was interpolated onto a 5‐minute grid of topographically adjusted climate data. The output was also used as input into statistical relationships between the occurrence of individual taxa and climate. The simulated vegetation changes include a combination of elevational and directional range adjustments. The range of high‐elevation species decreases, and some species become regionally extirpated. The new communities have no analogue in the present‐day vegetation because they mix low‐elevation montane species currently in the region with extralocal species from the northern and central Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest. The projected climate changes within the Yellowstone region and the individualism displayed by species in their potential range adjustments are equal or greater than the changes seen in the paleoecologic record during previous warming intervals. Although the results support conservation strategies that include habitat connectivity, the magnitude of the changes may exceed the ability of species to adjust their ranges. The predicted patterns call into question the adequacy of current management objectives to cope with the scope of future changes.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Jun 9, 1997
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