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Data from: Microclimate-based species distribution models in complex terrain indicate widespread cryptic refugia under climate change

Citation

Stark, Jordan; Fridley, Jason (2022), Data from: Microclimate-based species distribution models in complex terrain indicate widespread cryptic refugia under climate change, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.5x69p8d2v

Abstract

Aim: Species’ climatic niches may be poorly predicted by regional climate estimates used in species distribution models (SDMs) due to microclimatic buffering of local conditions. Here, we compare SDMs generated using a locally validated below-canopy microclimate model to those based on interpolated weather station data at two spatial scales to determine the effects of scale, topography, and forest cover on potential future ground-level warming and species distributions.

Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2090 km2; NC, TN, USA)

Time period: 1970 – 2006

Major taxa: Vascular plant species of the Southern Appalachians

Methods: We compared the fit and predictions of SDMs generated using a database of plant occurrences and three climate models: macroclimate (1 km, WorldClim), fine-scale (30 m) interpolation of macroclimate with elevation, and fine-scale below-canopy microclimate from a ground-level sensor network.

Results: We found that, although SDM fit was similar across models, microclimate-derived SDMs predicted substantially greater species persistence with 4 °C of regional warming, with a difference of 50% of the species pool in some areas. Microclimate SDMs predicted higher stability of mid-elevation species, particularly in thermally buffered areas near streams, and critically, less change in species composition at high elevation. In contrast, predictions of macroclimate and interpolation models were similar despite improved resolution.

Main conclusions: Our results demonstrate that careful selection of climate drivers, including local near-ground validation rather than interpolation, is critical for projecting distributions. They also suggest that some species at risk from climate change might persist, even with 4 °C of macroclimate warming, in cryptic refugia buffered by microclimate, pointing to the roles of forest cover and topography in explaining slower-than-expected changes in understory communities. However, certain species, such as those currently occurring on low-elevation ridges that are sensitive to atmospheric changes, may be at more risk than macroclimate or interpolated SDMs suggest.

 

Funding

National Park Service

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation