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Topographic, latitudinal and climatic distribution of Pinus coulteri: geographic range limits are not at the edge of the climate envelope

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With changing climate, many species are projected to move poleward or to higher elevations to track suitable climates. The prediction that species will move poleward assumes that geographically marginal populations are at the edge of the species' climatic range. We studied Pinus coulteri from the center to the northern (poleward) edge of its range, and examined three scenarios regarding the relationship between the geographic and climatic margins of a species' range. We used herbarium and iNaturalist.org records to identify P. coulteri sites, generated a species distribution model based on temperature, precipitation, climatic water deficit, and actual evapotranspiration, and projected suitability under future climate scenarios. In fourteen populations from the central to northern portions of the range, we conducted field studies and recorded elevation, slope and aspect (to estimate solar insolation) to examine relationships between local and regional distributions. We found that northern populations of P. coulteri do not occupy the cold or wet edge of the species' climatic range; mid‐latitude, high elevation populations occupy the cold margin. Aspect and insolation of P. coulteri populations changed significantly across latitudes and elevations. Unexpectedly, northern, low‐elevation stands occupy north‐facing aspects and receive low insolation, while central, high‐elevation stands grow on more south‐facing aspects that receive higher insolation. Modeled future climate suitability is projected to be highest in the central, high elevation portion of the species range, and in low‐lying coastal regions under some scenarios, with declining suitability in northern areas under most future scenarios. For P. coulteri, the lack of high elevation habitat combined with a major dispersal barrier may limit northward movement in response to a warming climate. Our analyses demonstrate the importance of distinguishing geographically vs. climatically marginal populations, and the importance of quantitative analysis of the realized climate space to understand species range limits.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2015

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