IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Changes in species distributions and abundances

Many studies of species abundances and distributions corroborate predicted systematic shifts related to changes in climatic regimes, often via species-specific physiological thresholds of temperature and precipitation tolerance. Habitat loss and fragmentation may also influence these shifts. Empirical evidence shows that the natural reaction of species to climate change is hampered by habitat fragmentation and/or loss (Hill et al., 1999b; Warren et al., 2001; Opdam and Wascher, 2004). However, temperature is likely to be the main driver if different species in many different areas, or species throughout broad regions, shift in a co-ordinated and systematic manner. In particular, some butterflies appear to track decadal warming quickly (Parmesan et al., 1999), whereas the sensitivity of tree-line forests to climate warming varies with topography and the tree-line history (e.g., human impacts) (Holtmeier and Broll, 2005). Several different bird species no longer migrate out of Europe in the winter as the temperature continues to warm. Additionally, many species have recently expanded their ranges polewards as these higher-latitude habitats become less marginal (Thomas et al., 2001a). Various studies also found connections between local ecological observations across diverse taxa (birds, mammals, fish) and large-scale climate variations associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (Blenckner and Hillebrand, 2002). For example, the NAO and/or ENSO has been associated with the synchronisation of population dynamics of caribou and musk oxen (Post and Forchhammer, 2002), reindeer calf survival (Weladji and Holand, 2003), fish abundance (Guisande et al., 2004), fish range shifts (Dul?i? et al., 2004) and avian demographic dynamics (Sydeman et al., 2001; Jones et al., 2002; Almaraz and Amat, 2004).

Changes in the distribution of species have occurred across a wide range of taxonomic groups and geographical locations during the 20th century (Table 1.9). Over the past decades, a poleward extension of various species has been observed, which is probably attributable to increases in temperature (Parmesan and Yohe, 2003). One cause of these expansions is increased survivorship (Crozier, 2004). Many Arctic and tundra communities are affected and have been replaced by trees and dwarf shrubs (Kullman, 2002; ACIA, 2005). In north-western Europe, e.g., in the Netherlands (Tamis et al., 2001) and central Norway (EEA, 2004), thermophilic (warmth-requiring) plant species have become significantly more frequent compared with 30 years ago. In contrast, there has been a small decline in the presence of traditionally cold-tolerant species. These changes in composition are the result of the migration of thermophilic species into these new areas, but are also due to an increased abundance of these species in their current locations.

Table 1.9. Evidence of significant recent range shifts polewards and to higher elevations.

Location Species/Indicator Observed range shift due to increased temperature (if nothing else stated) References 
California coast, USA Spittlebug Northward range shift Karban and Strauss, 2004 
Sweden Czech Republic Tick (Ixodes ricinus) Northward expansion 1982-1996 Expansion to higher altitudes (+300 m) Lindgren et al., 2000 Daniel et al., 2003 
Washington State, USA Skipper butterfly  Range expansion with increased Tmin Crozier, 2004 
UK 329 species across 16 taxa  Northwards (av. 31-60 km) and upwards (+25 m) in 25 years. Significant northwards and elevational shifts in 12 of 16 taxa. Only 3 species of amphibians and reptiles shifted significantly southwards and to lower elevations Hickling et al., 2006 
UK Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) Expanded northern margin, at 0.51-0.93 km/yr, depending on habitat availability Hill et al., 2001 
UK 4 northern butterflies (1970-2004) 2 species retreating 73 and 80 km north, 1 species retreating 149 m uphill Franco et al., 2006 
Central Spain 16 butterfly species Upward shift of 210 m in the lower elevational limit between 1967-73 and 2004 Wilson et al., 2005 
Britain 37 dragonfly and damselfly species 36 out of 37 species shifted northwards (mean 84 km) from 1960-70 to 1985-95 Hickling et al., 2005 
Czech Republic 15 of 120 butterfly species Uphill shifts in last 40 years Konvicka et al., 2003 
Poland White stork (Ciconia ciconia) Range expansions in elevation, 240 m during last 70 years Tryjanowski et al., 2005 
Australia 3 macropods and 4 feral mammal species Range expansions to higher altitudes Green and Pickering, 2002 
Australia Grey-headed flying fox Contraction of southern boundary poleward by 750 km since 1930s Tidemann et al., 1999 
Senegal, West Africa 126 tree and shrub species (1945-1993) Up to 600 m/yr latitudinal shift of ecological zones due to decrease in precipitation Gonzalez, 2001 
Russia, Bulgaria, Sweden, Spain, New Zealand, USA Tree line Advancement towards higher altitudes  Meshinev et al., 2000; Kullman, 2002; Peñuelas and Boada, 2003; Millar and Herdman, 2004 
Canada Bioclimatic taiga-tundra ecotone indicator 12 km/yr northward shift (NDVI data)  Fillol and Royer, 2003 
Alaska Arctic shrub vegetation  Expansion into previously shrub-free areas  Sturm et al., 2001 
European Alps Alpine summit vegetation Elevational shift, increased species-richness on mountain tops Grabherr et al., 2001; Pauli et al., 2001; Walther et al., 2005a 
Montana, USA Arctic-alpine species Decline at the southern margin of range Lesica and McCune, 2004 
Germany, Scandinavia English holly (Ilex aquifolium) Poleward shift of northern margin due to increasing winter temperatures Walther et al., 2005b 

Altitudinal shifts of plant species have been well documented (Grabherr et al., 2001; Dobbertin et al., 2005; Walther et al., 2005a) (Table 1.9). In several Northern Hemisphere mountain systems, tree lines have markedly shifted to higher elevations during the 20th century, such as in the Urals (Moiseev and Shiyatov, 2003), in Bulgaria (Meshinev et al., 2000), in the Scandes Mountains of Scandinavia (Kullman, 2002) and in Alaska (Sturm et al., 2001). In some places, the position of the tree line has not extended upwards in elevation in the last half-century (Cullen et al., 2001; Masek, 2001; Klasner and Fagre, 2002), which may be due to time-lag effects owing to poor seed production/dispersal, to the presence of ‘surrogate habitats’ with special microclimates, or to topographical factors (Holtmeier and Broll, 2005). In mountainous regions, climate is a main driver of species composition, but in some areas, grazing, logging or firewood collection can be of considerable relevance. In parts of the European Alps, for example, the tree line is influenced by past and present land-use impacts (Theurillat and Guisan, 2001; Carnelli et al., 2004). A climate warming-induced upward migration of alpine plants in the high Alps (Grabherr et al., 2001; Pauli et al., 2001) was observed to have accelerated towards the beginning of the 21st century (Walther et al., 2005a). Species ranges of alpine plants also have extended to higher altitudes in the Norwegian Scandes (Klanderud and Birks, 2003). Species in alpine regions, which are often endemic and of high importance for plant diversity (Vare et al., 2003), are vulnerable to climate warming, most probably because of often restricted climatic ranges, small isolated populations, and the absence of suitable areas at higher elevations in which to migrate (Pauli et al., 2003).