Resource managers at parks and other protected areas are increasingly expected to factor climate change explicitly into their decision making frameworks. However, most protected areas are small relative to the geographic ranges of species being managed, so forecasts need to consider local adaptation and community dynamics that are correlated with climate and affect distributions inside protected area boundaries. Additionally, niche theory suggests that species' physiological capacities to respond to climate change may be underestimated when forecasts fail to consider the full breadth of climates occupied by the species rangewide. Here, using correlative species distribution models that contrast estimates of climatic sensitivity inferred from the two spatial extents, we quantify the response of limber pine (Pinus flexilis) to climate change in Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado, USA). Models are trained locally within the park where limber pine is the community dominant tree species, a distinct structural-compositional vegetation class of interest to managers, and also rangewide, as suggested by niche theory. Model forecasts through 2100 under two representative concentration pathways (RCP 4.5 and 8.5 W/m2) show that the distribution of limber pine in the park is expected to move upslope in elevation, but changes in total and core patch area remain highly uncertain. Most of this uncertainty is biological, as magnitudes of projected change are considerably more variable between the two spatial extents used in model training than they are between RCPs, and novel future climates only affect local model predictions associated with RCP 8.5 after 2091. Combined, these results illustrate the importance of accounting for unknowns in species' climatic sensitivities when forecasting distributional scenarios that are used to inform management decisions. We discuss how our results for limber pine may be interpreted in the context of climate change vulnerability and used to help guide adaptive management.
Monahan, William B.; Cook, Tammy; Melton, Forrest; Connor, Jeff; and Bobowski, Ben, "Forecasting Distributional Responses of Limber Pine to Climate Change at Management-Relevant Scales in Rocky Mountain National Park" (2013). School of Natural Sciences Faculty Publications and Presentations. 50.