The future of subalpine forests in the Southern rocky mountains: Trajectories for Pinus aristata genetic lineages

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Abstract

Like many other high elevation alpine tree species, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata Engelm.) may be particularly vulnerable to climate change. To evaluate its potential vulnerability to shifts in climate, we defined the suitable climate space for each of four genetic lineages of bristlecone pine and for other subalpine tree species in close proximity to bristlecone pine forests. Measuring changes in the suitable climate space for lineage groups is an important step beyond models that assume species are genetically homogenous. The suitable climate space for bristlecone pine in the year 2090 is projected to decline by 74% and the proportional distribution of suitable climate space for genetic lineages shifts toward those associated with warmer and wetter conditions. The 2090 climate space for bristlecone pine exhibits a bimodal distribution along an elevation gradient, presumably due to the persistence of the climate space in the Southern Rocky Mountains and exclusion at mid-elevations by conditions that favor the climate space of other species. These shifts have implications for changes in fire regimes, vulnerability to pest and pathogens, and altered carbon dynamics across the southern Rockies, which may reduce the likelihood of bristlecone pine trees achieving exceptional longevity in the future. The persistence and expansion of climate space for southern bristlecone pine genetic lineage groups in 2090 suggests that these sources may be the least vulnerable in the future. While these lineages may be more likely to persist and therefore present opportunities for proactive management (e.g., assisted migration) to maintain subalpine forest ecosystem services in a warmer world, our findings also imply heighted conservation concern for vulnerable northern lineages facing range contractions.

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Malone, S. L., Schoettle, A. W., & Coop, J. D. (2018). The future of subalpine forests in the Southern rocky mountains: Trajectories for Pinus aristata genetic lineages. PLoS ONE, 13(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0193481

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