Smith Fellows
Smith Fellow


Montane species are expected to be particularly threatened by climate change as warming temperatures drive species’ ranges upslope. This is based in part on the assumption that species are squeezed into ever-smaller areas as they ascend, leading to population declines and eventual extinction. However, recent research illustrates that a diversity of area-elevation patterns exists within the world’s mountain ranges, suggesting that population responses will be specific to their local, topographic context. Accounting for underlying topography in conservation planning can target critical “pinch points” where species’ range shifts result in significant area reductions. Protection of these key “topographic corridors” may facilitate species adaptation to climate change. Within this theoretical framework, my research proposes to develop and implement a novel approach to conserving montane species under climate change. By combining high-resolution elevation data with maps of land-use and designated protected lands by landholder type, I will identify priority areas for montane species conservation where critical bottleneck zones are underrepresented by current collective protection efforts for all US mountain ranges. Furthermore, focusing specifically on California—a region of high conservation priority with a variety of topographic patterns within its mountain ranges—I will combine area-elevation distributions with forecasted species distribution models for birds and trees to illustrate how this approach can be implemented to make climate-informed planning decisions. Results will provide a robust assessment of where current protection underrepresents available land area for montane species, identifying collaborative opportunities among agencies by revealing priorities for land acquisition, protection, and biodiversity-focused land management to effectively enact proactive conservation for species adaptation under climate change.