Climate, competition and connectivity affect future migration and ranges of European trees


Eliane S. Meier, Landscape Dynamics, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Zürcherstrasse 111, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland. E-mail:


Aim  Species ranges have adapted during the Holocene to altering climate conditions, but it remains unclear if species will be able to keep pace with recent and future climate change. The goal of our study is to assess the influence of changing macroclimate, competition and habitat connectivity on the migration rates of 14 tree species. We also compare the projections of range shifts from species distribution models (SDMs) that incorporate realistic migration rates with classical models that assume no or unlimited migration.

Location  Europe.

Methods  We calibrated SDMs with species abundance data from 5768 forest plots from ICP Forest Level 1 in relation to climate, topography, soil and land-use data to predict current and future tree distributions. To predict future species ranges from these models, we applied three migration scenarios: no migration, unlimited migration and realistic migration. The migration rates for the SDMs incorporating realistic migration were estimated according to macroclimate, inter-specific competition and habitat connectivity from simulation experiments with a spatially explicit process model (TreeMig). From these relationships, we then developed a migration cost surface to constrain the predicted distributions of the SDMs.

Results  The distributions of early-successional species during the 21st century predicted by SDMs that incorporate realistic migration matched quite well with the unlimited migration assumption (mean migration rate over Europe for A1fi/GRAS climate and land-use change scenario 156.7 ± 79.1 m year−1 and for B1/SEDG 164.3 ± 84.2 m year−1). The predicted distributions of mid- to late-successional species matched better with the no migration assumption (A1fi/GRAS, 15.2 ± 24.5 m year−1 and B1/SEDG, 16.0 ± 25.6 m year−1). Inter-specific competition, which is higher under favourable growing conditions, reduced range shift velocity more than did adverse macroclimatic conditions (i.e. very cold or dry climate). Habitat fragmentation also led to considerable time lags in range shifts.

Main conclusions  Migration rates depend on species traits, competition, spatial habitat configuration and climatic conditions. As a result, re-adjustments of species ranges to climate and land-use change are complex and very individualistic, yet still quite predictable. Early-successional species track climate change almost instantaneously while mid- to late- successional species were predicted to migrate very slowly.