Future suitability of habitat in a migratory ungulate under climate change
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionProceedings of the Royal Society of London. Biological Sciences. 2019, 286 (1899), . 10.1098/rspb.2019.0442
With climate change, the effect of global warming on snow cover is expected to cause range expansion and enhance habitat suitability for species at their northern distribution limits. However, how this depends on landscape topography and sex in size-dimorphic species remains uncertain, and is further complicated for migratory animals following climate-driven seasonal resource fluctuations across vast landscapes. Using 11 years of data from a partially migratory ungulate at their northern distribution ranges, the red deer (Cervus elaphus), we predicted sex-specific summer and winter habitat suitability in diverse landscapes under medium and severe global warming. We found large increases in future winter habitat suitability, resulting in expansion of winter ranges as currently unsuitable habitat became suitable. Even moderate warming decreased snow cover substantially, with no suitability difference between warming scenarios. Winter ranges will hence not expand linearly with warming, even for species at their northern distribution limits. Although less pronounced than in winter, summer ranges also expanded and more so under severe warming. Summer habitat suitability was positively correlated with landscape topography and ranges expanded more for females than males. Our study highlights the complexity of predicting future habitat suitability for conservation and management of size-dimorphic, migratory species under global warming.