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Frontiers of Biogeography

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Many species risk mountain top extinction long before they reach the top


Analyses of topography show that mountains do not monotonically decrease in area with elevation as is commonly believed and that in reality land area often increases at higher elevations. This finding bodes well for the future of biodiversity since it means that in many parts of the world there are sufficient upslope areas for low- and mid-elevation species to migrate into as temperatures increase. However, more attention needs to be given to determining if migrating species can actually reach these expansive high-elevation areas. Many factors can prevent species from migrating upslope including stable ecotones. Often ecotonal boundaries are not set by mean temperatures alone and thus are not shifting upslope with warming. An example of this are tropical alpine treelines, which are not shifting upslope despite rapid warming potentially due to the stabilizing influences of climatic factors other than mean temperatures (e.g., extreme cold events) or non-climatic factors (e.g., soil or human disturbances). Stable ecotones can potentially prevent species from expanding their ranges into upland areas in which case the amount of land at higher elevations is irrelevant and species may face “mountain top extinctions” long before they reach the actual tops of the mountains.


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