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Climate change may push some species to higher elevations

Christian Fernsby ▼ | April 27, 2020
A new WCS-led study reveals that mountain-dwelling species fleeing warming temperatures by retreating to higher elevations may find refuge from reduced human pressure.
Mountain animals
High above   Mountain animals
A new study published in Nature Communications by scientists at WCS, the University of California, Berkeley, and the United States Forest Service shows that nearly 60 percent of all mountainous area is under intense human pressure.

Most of the pressure is at low elevations and mountain bases, which tend to be easier places for people to live, grow food, and build roads.

The scientists then used climate models to make predictions about how species would move under climate change.

Based on their predictions, they found that species tend to move to higher elevations, and that these higher elevations tend to have more intact land for species because there is less human pressure.

Without factoring in human pressure, the authors warn that conservation actions may be misguided.

Factoring in human pressure reveals the true 'shape' of a mountain for species that are restricted to intact landscapes, which are often the species of greatest conservation concern.

Here, the 'true shape' refers to how much land area is potentially available as habitat for a species as it moves up in elevation, not simply how much total land area is available.

The true shape can reveal where species will tend to lose versus gain intact land area as they shift under climate change: the elevations where species are expected to lose area represent the priority zones for conservation.

Mountains are home to over 85 percent of the world's amphibians, birds, and mammals, making them global conservation priorities.

But mountain-dwelling species are at risk from human activities, such as agriculture, livestock grazing, and development that reduce their habitat, and climate change that threatens to push species upslope as they struggle to find tolerable temperatures.


 

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