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Projected impacts of climate change on the range and phenology of three culturally-important shrub species

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Climate change is shifting both the habitat suitability and the timing of critical biological events, such as flowering and fruiting, for plant species across the globe. Here, we ask how both the distribution and phenology of three food-producing shrubs native to northwestern North America might shift as the climate changes. To address this question, we compared gridded climate data with species location data to identify climate variables that best predicted the current bioclimatic niches of beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta), Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), and salal (Gaultheria shallon). We also developed thermal-sum models for the timing of flowering and fruit ripening for these species. We then used multi-model ensemble future climate projections to estimate how species range and phenology may change under future conditions. Modelling efforts showed extreme minimum temperature, climate moisture deficit, and mean summer precipitation were predictive of climatic suitability across all three species. Future bioclimatic niche models project substantial reductions in habitat suitability across the lower elevation and southern portions of the species' current ranges by the end of the 21st century. Thermal-sum phenology models for these species indicate that flowering and the ripening of fruits and nuts will advance an average of 25 days by the mid-21st century, and 36 days by the late-21st century under a high emissions scenario (RCP 8.5). Future changes in the climatic niche and phenology of these important food-producing species may alter trophic relationships, with cascading impacts on regional ecosystems.

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