Predicted changes in climatic niche and climate refugia of conservation priority salamander species in the Northeastern United States

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Abstract

Global climate change represents one of the most extensive and pervasive threats to wildlife populations. Amphibians, specifically salamanders, are particularly susceptible to the effects of changing climates due to their restrictive physiological requirements and low vagility; however, little is known about which landscapes and species are vulnerable to climate change. Our study objectives included, (1) evaluating species-specific predictions (based on 2050 climate projections) and vulnerabilities to climate change and (2) using collective species responses to identify areas of climate refugia for conservation priority salamanders in the northeastern United States. All evaluated salamander species were projected to lose a portion of their climatic niche. Averaged projected losses ranged from 3%-100% for individual species, with the Cow Knob Salamander (Plethodon punctatus), Cheat Mountain Salamander (Plethodon nettingi), Shenandoah Mountain Salamander (Plethodon virginia), Mabee's Salamander (Ambystoma mabeei), and Streamside Salamander (Ambystoma barbouri) predicted to lose at least 97% of their landscape-scale climatic niche. The Western Allegheny Plateau was predicted to lose the greatest salamander climate refugia richness (i.e., number of species with a climatically-suitable niche in a landscape patch), whereas the Central Appalachians provided refugia for the greatest number of species during current and projected climate scenarios. Our results can be used to identify species and landscapes that are likely to be further affected by climate change and potentially resilient habitats that will provide consistent climatic conditions in the face of environmental change.

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Sutton, W. B., Barrett, K., Moody, A. T., Loftin, C. S., deMaynadier, P. G., & Nanjappa, P. (2015). Predicted changes in climatic niche and climate refugia of conservation priority salamander species in the Northeastern United States. Forests, 6(1), 1–26. https://doi.org/10.3390/f6010001

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