Climate-driven range shifts in the United States: evidence from a hypothesis-driven framework and systematic review

Madeleine A. Rubenstein1, Shawn L. Carter1, Mitchell J. Eaton2, Jeremy S. Littell3, Abigail J. Lynch1, Brian W. Miller4, Toni Lyn Morelli5, Adam J. Terando2, Laura M.  Thompson1, Sarah R.  Weiskopf1

1National Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey, Reston, United States, 2Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey, Raleigh, USA, 3Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey, Anchorage, USA, 4North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey, Boulder, USA, 5Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey, Amherst, USA

Climate change represents one of the foremost drivers of ecological change, yet its impacts on biodiversity remain largely uncertain. Although the volume of scientific studies on climate-driven range shifts has grown in recent years, projections still vastly outnumber documented cases. Specific mechanisms remain difficult to isolate, given numerous potential drivers and high variability in observed shifts across species and regions. A framework for evaluating empirical evidence of range shifts is needed to assess commonly held hypotheses (e.g., poleward latitudinal shifts, upslope elevational shifts), clarify why species do and do not conform to expectations, and inform management responses. Using a hypothesis-driven approach, we assess climate-driven range shifts for species in the United States for which data are available. Through a systematic literature review of documented range shifts, and a combination of quantitative meta-analyses and qualitative confidence assessments, we evaluate the body of evidence on climate-driven range shifts and estimate the prevalence and magnitude of these changes. Furthermore, we use a climate change vulnerability framework to determine why observations support or fail to support commonly held hypotheses. Our analysis examines how varying levels of exposure, sensitivity, and capacity to adapt explain many of the idiosyncrasies associated with climate-driven range shifts. This work provides an iterative framework within which future observations can be added to further refine hypotheses. Our analysis provides updated evidence on where, how, and why species are shifting their ranges under climate change, and presents valuable information to inform a range of climate adaptation and wildlife management strategies.


Madeleine Rubenstein is a Biologist with the US Geological Survey National Climate Adaptation Science Center, where she studies the impacts of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems. Her research focuses on wildlife and ecosystem response to climate change, with an emphasis on producing national-scale synthesis assessments. She also works with natural resource managers across the Department of the Interior to develop a national research program that respond to needs of wildlife and habitat managers.

Before joining USGS, Madeleine earned a Master of Environmental Science at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. While at Yale, she worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society to research effects of climate change on the phenology of boreal birds. Prior to graduate school, she was the Research Coordinator with the Columbia Climate Center at the Earth Institute of Columbia University, and interned with the Plant Ecology Lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Madeleine has also worked on issues of international sustainable development with the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Women’s Environment and Development Organization.

Species on the Move

An International Conference Series

The conference brings together scientists and natural resource managers working in the disciplines of global change, biogeography and evolution, and relevant in contexts of natural resource management, biodiversity management and conservation, and theoretical ecology.

Species responses to climate change is a rapidly evolving research field, however, much of our progress is being made in independent research areas: e.g. understanding the process vs responding to the implications, terrestrial vs marine ecosystems, global meta-analyses vs in depth species-specific approaches. This interdisciplinary conference develops connections between these parallel streams, and across temporal and spatial scales.

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