Nav: Home

Better predicting mountains' flora and fauna in a changing world

January 22, 2018

Climbing a mountain is challenging. So, too, is providing the best possible information to plan for climate change's impact on mountain vegetation and wildlife. Understanding how plant and animal species in mountainous areas will be affected by climate change is complicated and difficult.

In PloS ONE, Michigan State University (MSU) scientists show that using several sources of climate measurements when modeling the potential future distributions of mountain vegetation and wildlife can increase confidence in the model results and provide useful guidance for conservation planning.

Mountain ranges take up about a quarter of the world's land area, are rich in biodiversity, and are home to many endangered or threatened wildlife, including the iconic giant panda. Mountains also have notoriously complex climates. Their landscapes harbor microclimates, varied air circulation patterns and elevations and usually are too remote to have many weather and climate observing stations.

Understanding how climate change may affect wildlife habitats is important to conservation managers. Climate change could render today's wildlife refuges less hospitable and unable to support wildlife populations. The study "Uncertainty of future projections of species distributions in mountainous regions" notes that the majority of researchers working to create models predicting changes in species distributions over time have used climate datasets derived from conventional observing stations.

The problem, notes Ying Tang, a research associate in MSU's geography department and the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, is that the resolution of the station network in remote mountain areas may not capture the complex climates of mountain ranges, leading to uncertainty in future projections of species distributions.

To get a better read on the climate patterns of mountain regions, Tang and her colleagues did a deep dive into also examining a newly compiled dataset of remotely-sensed measurements of temperature and precipitation gathered from satellite sensors. These measurements have a finer resolution and more continuous spatial coverage than conventional climate observing networks. They modeled the future distributions of bamboo species in the mountains of southwestern China that are essential for giant panda conservation efforts.

The combination of the two types of datasets, Tang said, allows a better understanding of habitat suitability in mountainous areas.

It's also much more difficult to process. Tang and the group, under the direction of geography professor Julie Winkler, spent some two years running several million simulations to re-examine earlier projections based on conventional climate datasets only, burning through 20 terabytes of data.

The use of the two very different climate datasets allows for more confidence in the future projections for those bamboo species for which the projected changes were similar for the two climate datasets and provides an estimate of the level of uncertainty for those species for which the projections differed.

"This information is invaluable for conservation planning, allowing for nuanced and flexible decision making", Tang said. "The use of multiple climate datasets in species distribution modeling helps to ensure that conservation planners in mountainous regions have the best possible information available to them."
Besides Tang, the paper was authored by Winkler, Andrés Viña, Jianguo "Jack" Liu, Yuanbin Zhang, Xiaofeng Zhang, Xiaohong Li, Fang Wang, Jindong Zhang, and Zhiqiang Zhao.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation Macrosystems Biology Program.

Michigan State University

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".