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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Potential change in the distribution of an abundant and wide-ranging forest salamander in a context of climate change

  • Author(s): Moore, Jean-David
  • Ouellet, Martin
  • Lambert, Marie-Claude
  • et al.

Climate change already affects species in many ecosystems worldwide. Since climate is an important component of a species’ ecological niche, up-to-date information about climatic niches is needed to model future species distributions in a context of climate change. The eastern red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) is a wide-ranging woodland species and one of the most abundant vertebrates in northeastern North America. Though salamanders contribute to several forest ecosystem functions, little is known about their climatic niche and future distribution. Using a dataset of 400,090 observations from 8302 localities in 5 Canadian provinces and 22 American states, we determined the current climatic niche of P. cinereus and predicted how the species’ distribution could shift in a context of climate change, especially in the northern part of its range. We also aimed to document factors that could affect the species’ distribution. We show that P. cinereus can live in various geographic and climatic conditions and tolerate a wide range of seasonal temperatures. The species’ current potential and future (until 2061–2080) distributions show a gap of up to 400 km with the northern limit of its current observed distribution. Assuming a mean colonization rate of approximately 100 m per year, we calculated that P. cinereus would need about 4000 years to reach the northern limit of the future distribution range modeled for the 2061–2080 period. The climate-modeled future distribution suggests that the presence of P. cinereus could decrease in the south and increase in the north. This, combined with the potential presence of habitats that are unsuitable for the species’ colonization in the north and with interspecific interactions in the south, could induce a contraction of the species’ range. Regardless of climate warming, the physical environment and natural and anthropic disturbances could also limit the species’ northern post-glaciation migration.

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