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Projected climate-induced faunal change in the Western Hemisphere

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Abstract

Climate change is predicted to be one of the greatest drivers of ecological change in the coming century. Increases in temperature over the last century have clearly been linked to shifts in species distributions. Given the magnitude of projected future climatic changes, we can expect even larger range shifts in the coming century. These changes will, in turn, alter ecological communities and the functioning of ecosystems. Despite the seriousness of predicted climate change, the uncertainty in climate-change projections makes it difficult for conservation managers and planners to proactively respond to climate stresses. To address one aspect of this uncertainty, we identified predictions of faunal change for which a high level of consensus was exhibited by different climate models. Specifically, we assessed the potential effects of 30 coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model (AOGCM) future-climate simulations on the geographic ranges of 2954 species of birds, mammals, and amphibians in the Western Hemisphere. Eighty percent of the climate projections based on a relatively low greenhouse-gas emissions scenario result in the local loss of at least 10% of the vertebrate fauna over much of North and South America. The largest changes in fauna are predicted for the tundra, Central America, and the Andes Mountains where, assuming no dispersal constraints, specific areas are likely to experience over 90% turnover, so that faunal distributions in the future will bear little resemblance to those of today.

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