Unusually large upward shifts in cold-adapted, montane mammals as temperature warms

Christy M. McCain, Sarah R.B. King, Tim M. Szewczyk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The largest and tallest mountain range in the contiguous United States, the Southern Rocky Mountains, has warmed considerably in the past several decades due to anthropogenic climate change. Herein we examine how 47 mammal elevational ranges (27 rodent and 4 shrew species) have changed from their historical distributions (1886–1979) to their contemporary distributions (post 2005) along 2,400-m elevational gradients in the Front Range and San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Historical elevational ranges were based on more than 4,580 georeferenced museum specimen and publication records. Contemporary elevational ranges were based on 7,444 records from systematic sampling efforts and museum specimen records. We constructed Bayesian models to estimate the probability a species was present, but undetected, due to undersampling at each 50-m elevational bin for each time period and mountain range. These models leveraged individual-level detection probabilities, the number and patchiness of detections across 50-m bands of elevation, and a decaying likelihood of presence from last known detections. We compared 95% likelihood elevational ranges between historical and contemporary time periods to detect directional change. Responses were variable as 26 mammal ranges changed upward, 6 did not change, 11 changed downward, and 4 were extirpated locally. The average range shift was 131 m upward, while exclusively montane species shifted upward more often (75%) and displayed larger average range shifts (346 m). The best predictors of upper limit and total directional change were species with higher maximum latitude in their geographic range, montane affiliation, and the study mountain was at the southern edge of their geographic range. Thus, mammals in the Southern Rocky Mountains serve as harbingers of more changes to come, particularly for montane, cold-adapted species in the southern portion of their ranges.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03300
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Early online date18 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • climate change
  • elevation
  • range contractions
  • range shifts
  • rodents
  • shrews


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