The effects of climate change on biodiversity have emerged as a dominant theme in conservation biology, possibly eclipsing concern over habitat loss in recent years. The extent to which this shifting focus has tracked the most eminent threats to biodiversity is not well documented. We investigated the mechanisms driving shifts in the southern range boundary of a forest and snow cover specialist, the snowshoe hare, to explore how its range boundary has responded to shifting rates of climate and land cover change over time. We found that although both forest and snow cover contributed to the historical range boundary, the current duration of snow cover best explains the most recent northward shift, while forest cover has declined in relative importance. In this respect, the southern range boundary of snowshoe hares has mirrored the focus of conservation research; first habitat loss and fragmentation was the stronger environmental constraint, but climate change has now become the main threat. Projections of future range shifts show that climate change, and associated snow cover loss, will continue to be the major driver of this species' range loss into the future.
- Received December 28, 2015.
- Accepted March 1, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.