Projected range contractions of montane biodiversity under global warming

Frank A. La Sorte, Walter Jetz

Abstract

Mountains, especially in the tropics, harbour a unique and large portion of the world's biodiversity. Their geographical isolation, limited range size and unique environmental adaptations make montane species potentially the most threatened under impeding climate change. Here, we provide a global baseline assessment of geographical range contractions and extinction risk of high-elevation specialists in a future warmer world. We consider three dispersal scenarios for simulated species and for the world's 1009 montane bird species. Under constrained vertical dispersal (VD), species with narrow vertical distributions are strongly impacted; at least a third of montane bird diversity is severely threatened. In a scenario of unconstrained VD, the location and structure of mountain systems emerge as a strong driver of extinction risk. Even unconstrained lateral movements offer little improvement to the fate of montane species in the Afrotropics, Australasia and Nearctic. Our results demonstrate the particular roles that the geography of species richness, the spatial structure of lateral and particularly vertical range extents and the specific geography of mountain systems have in determining the vulnerability of montane biodiversity to climate change. Our findings confirm the outstanding levels of biotic perturbation and extinction risk that mountain systems are likely to experience under global warming and highlight the need for additional knowledge on species' vertical distributions, dispersal and adaptive capacities.

  • Received March 22, 2010.
  • Accepted May 20, 2010.
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