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Spatiotemporal influences of climate and humans on muskox range dynamics over multiple millennia

Cite this dataset

Canteri, Elisabetta (2022). Spatiotemporal influences of climate and humans on muskox range dynamics over multiple millennia [Dataset]. Dryad.


Processes leading to range contractions and population declines of Arctic megafauna during the late Pleistocene and early-Holocene are uncertain, with intense debate on the roles of human hunting, climatic change, and their synergy. Obstacles to a resolution, have included an over reliance on correlative rather than process-explicit approaches for inferring drivers of distributional and demographic change. Using process-explicit macroecological models that integrate modern and fossil occurrence records, spatiotemporal reconstructions of past climatic change, speciesspecific population ecology and the growth and spread of anatomically modern humans, we disentangle the ecological mechanisms and threats that were integral in the decline and extinction of the muskox (Ovibos moschatus) in Eurasia, and in its expansion in North America. We show that accurately reconstructing inferences of past demographic changes for muskox over the last 21,000 years requires high dispersal abilities, large maximum densities, and a small Allee effect. Climatic change was the primary driver of muskox distribution shifts and demographic changes across its previously extensive (circumpolar) range, with populations responding negatively to rapid warming events. Regional analyses reveal that the range collapse and extinction of the muskox in Europe (~ 13 thousand years ago) was caused by humans operating in synergy with climatic warming. In Canada and Greenland, climatic change and human activities combined to drive recent population sizes. The impact of past climatic change on the range and extinction dynamics of muskox during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition signals a vulnerability of this species to future increased warming. By disentangling the ecological processes that shaped the distribution of the muskox through space and time, process-explicit models have important applications for the future conservation and management of this iconic species in a warming Arctic. 


We built process-explicit macroecological models of muskox that simulate interactions between metapopulation dynamics, climate variability, and hunting by humans. We used calibrated fossils and modern occurrence records obtained from publicly available databases and published literature. Records were intersected with paleoclimate reconstructions accessed using PaleoView, and modern climate data from CRU TS v4. Niche hypervolumes and spatiotemporal projections of habitat suitability were built in R using the 'hypervolume' package. Process-explicit macroecological models were built in R using the 'poems' and 'paleopop' package. Human abundance was modelled using a Climate Informed Spatial Genetics Model (CISGeM).


Australian Research Council, Award: DP180102392

Australian Research Council, Award: FT140101192

Danish Research Foundation, Award: DNRF96