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A Significant Upward Shift in Plant Species Optimum Elevation During the 20th Century

Science  27 Jun 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5884, pp. 1768-1771
DOI: 10.1126/science.1156831

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Abstract

Spatial fingerprints of climate change on biotic communities are usually associated with changes in the distribution of species at their latitudinal or altitudinal extremes. By comparing the altitudinal distribution of 171 forest plant species between 1905 and 1985 and 1986 and 2005 along the entire elevation range (0 to 2600 meters above sea level) in west Europe, we show that climate warming has resulted in a significant upward shift in species optimum elevation averaging 29 meters per decade. The shift is larger for species restricted to mountain habitats and for grassy species, which are characterized by faster population turnover. Our study shows that climate change affects the spatial core of the distributional range of plant species, in addition to their distributional margins, as previously reported.

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