Temperate mountain forest biodiversity under climate change: Compensating negative effects by increasing structural complexity

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Species adapted to cold-climatic mountain environments are expected to face a high risk of range contractions, if not local extinctions under climate change. Yet, the populations of many endothermic species may not be primarily affected by physiological constraints, but indirectly by climate-induced changes of habitat characteristics. In mountain forests, where vertebrate species largely depend on vegetation composition and structure, deteriorating habitat suitability may thus be mitigated or even compensated by habitat management aiming at compositional and structural enhancement. We tested this possibility using four cold-adapted bird species with complementary habitat requirements as model organisms. Based on species data and environmental information collected in 300 1-km 2 grid cells distributed across four mountain ranges in central Europe, we investigated (1) how species' occurrence is explained by climate, landscape, and vegetation, (2) to what extent climate change and climate-induced vegetation changes will affect habitat suitability, and (3) whether these changes could be compensated by adaptive habitat management. Species presence was modelled as a function of climate, landscape and vegetation variables under current climate; moreover, vegetation-climate relationships were assessed. The models were extrapolated to the climatic conditions of 2050, assuming the moderate IPCC-scenario A1B, and changes in species' occurrence probability were quantified. Finally, we assessed the maximum increase in occurrence probability that could be achieved by modifying one or multiple vegetation variables under altered climate conditions. Climate variables contributed significantly to explaining species occurrence, and expected climatic changes, as well as climate-induced vegetation trends, decreased the occurrence probability of all four species, particularly at the low-altitudinal margins of their distribution. These effects could be partly compensated by modifying single vegetation factors, but full compensation would only be achieved if several factors were changed in concert. The results illustrate the possibilities and limitations of adaptive species conservation management under climate change. © 2014 Braunisch et al.




Braunisch, V., Coppes, J., Arlettaz, R., Suchant, R., Zellweger, F., & Bollmann, K. (2014). Temperate mountain forest biodiversity under climate change: Compensating negative effects by increasing structural complexity. PLoS ONE, 9(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0097718

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