Past and projected future changes in species distributions as a consequence of climate change
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Recent climate change has already caused range shifts for many species, and future changes in the climate will likely lead to additional large-scale changes in species assemblages and richness. Most research into the effects of past climate change on species distributions has not accounted for the possibility of additional drivers opposing or working in tandem with climate. Failure to identify additional drivers may lead to inaccurate estimates of the contribution of climate change. Similarly, models used to build future projections of species’ distributions do not incorporate uncertainty into the estimates, which is inherently generated by several user defined parameters during the model building process. Using both field and modeling approaches, I quantified multiple drivers of past range changes in a community of Plethodontidae salamanders in the southern Appalachian Mountains and created future projections, which incorporated estimates of uncertainty, for the salamanders and several species endemic to the southwestern United States. Results from the field component demonstrated that salamanders expanded their elevational ranges due to two independent drivers: forest maturation and a slight cooling trend in the region. The modeling approach suggested that the majority of suitable climate space for salamander species in the southern Appalachian Mountains and several endemic species in the southwestern United States may decrease by mid-century. Further, the results indicate that four model parameters contributed most of the uncertainty to future projections.