Climate-driven, but dynamic and complex? A reconciliation of competing hypotheses for species’ distributions

Emily L. Schultz, Lisa Hülsmann, Michiel D. Pillet, Florian Hartig, David D. Breshears, Sydne Record, John D. Shaw, R. Justin DeRose, Pieter A. Zuidema, Margaret E.K. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Estimates of the percentage of species “committed to extinction” by climate change range from 15% to 37%. The question is whether factors other than climate need to be included in models predicting species’ range change. We created demographic range models that include climate vs. climate-plus-competition, evaluating their influence on the geographic distribution of Pinus edulis, a pine endemic to the semiarid southwestern U.S. Analyses of data on 23,426 trees in 1941 forest inventory plots support the inclusion of competition in range models. However, climate and competition together only partially explain this species’ distribution. Instead, the evidence suggests that climate affects other range-limiting processes, including landscape-scale, spatial processes such as disturbances and antagonistic biotic interactions. Complex effects of climate on species distributions—through indirect effects, interactions, and feedbacks—are likely to cause sudden changes in abundance and distribution that are not predictable from a climate-only perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-51
Number of pages14
JournalEcology letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • climate
  • competition
  • complex systems
  • demography
  • disturbances
  • forest inventory
  • integral projection model
  • range limits
  • scale
  • species distributions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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