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Keywords:

  • climatic warming;
  • Didelphis virginiana;
  • Glaucomys sabrinus;
  • Glaucomys volans;
  • Great Lakes;
  • Michigan;
  • Peromyscus leucopus;
  • Peromyscus maniculatus gracilis;
  • Tamias minimus;
  • Tamias striatus

Abstract

We use museum and other collection records to document large and extraordinarily rapid changes in the ranges and relative abundance of nine species of mammals in the northern Great Lakes region (white-footed mice, woodland deer mice, southern red-backed voles, woodland jumping mice, eastern chipmunks, least chipmunks, southern flying squirrels, northern flying squirrels, common opossums). These species reach either the southern or the northern limit of their distributions in this region. Changes consistently reflect increases in species of primarily southern distribution (white-footed mice, eastern chipmunks, southern flying squirrels, common opossums) and declines by northern species (woodland deer mice, southern red-backed voles, woodland jumping mice, least chipmunks, northern flying squirrels). White-footed mice and southern flying squirrels have extended their ranges over 225 km since 1980, and at particularly well-studied sites in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, small mammal assemblages have shifted from numerical domination by northern species to domination by southern species. Repeated resampling at some sites suggests that southern species are replacing northern ones rather than simply being added to the fauna. Observed changes are consistent with predictions from climatic warming but not with predictions based on recovery from logging or changes in human populations. Because of the abundance of these focal species (the eight rodent species make up 96.5% of capture records of all forest-dwelling rodents in the region and 70% of capture records of all forest-dwelling small mammals) and the dominating ecological roles they play, these changes substantially affect the composition and structure of forest communities. They also provide an unusually clear example of change that is likely to be the result of climatic warming in communities that are experienced by large numbers of people.