The legacy of past climate and landscape change on species’ current experienced climate and elevation ranges across latitude: a multispecies study utilizing mammals in western North America


  • Robert Guralnick

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the University of Colorado Museum, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0265, USA
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Robert Guralnick, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the University of Colorado Museum, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0265, USA. E-mail:


Aim  Elevation and climate ranges across latitude experienced by 21 wide-ranging mammal species in western North America were summarized to examine two questions: (1) do populations in the northern and southern portions of a species’ range experience different climates or are environments selected to remain similar to climates at the core of ranges; and (2) how do species’ elevational ranges, experienced temperature seasonality and temperature ranges change across latitude? Given the larger effects of climate oscillations in the north vs. the south, a predicted outcome is for species to conserve climate niches across latitude and to show reduced climate and elevation ranges in the north. An alternative outcome is latitudinal niche diversification and increased climate variation in the north.

Location  Western North America.

Methods  The questions above were examined using a combination of species occurrence data bases, climate data bases, simple summaries of means and standard deviations and by testing summaries against random distributions across latitude for 21 mammal species from a variety of orders.

Results  The results showed that: (i) most species conserve their niche strongly or weakly given overall temperature gradients from north to south; (ii) seasonality experienced by species is relatively static until the highest latitudes despite directional trends across the region; and (iii) the elevation range and temperature variation that species experience decreases from south to north.

Main conclusions  Populations at range edges appear to partition environments to remain closer to temperature values similar to those at the core of the range. In addition, seasonality is not a likely explanatory factor of genetic diversity in latitudinal gradients. The data are instead more consistent with predictions that a combination of higher gene-flow, increasing environmental instability and decreasing elevation gradients in the north compared to the south may lead to negative correlations between latitude and species’ climate variation. The results corroborate risks faced by northern mammal populations to global climate changes.