Onward but not always upward: individualistic elevational shifts of tree species in subtropical montane forests



O'Sullivan KSW, Ruiz-Benito P, Chen J & Jump AS (2021) Onward but not always upward: individualistic elevational shifts of tree species in subtropical montane forests. Ecography, 44 (1), pp. 112-123.

Ongoing global climate change is driving widespread shifts in species distributions. Trends show frequent upwards shifts of treelines, but information on changes in montane forest below the treeline and in the tropics and sub-tropics is limited, despite the importance of these areas for biodiversity and ecosystem function. Patterns of species shifts in tropical and subtropical regions are likely to be more complex and individualistic than global averages suggest due to high species diversity and strong influence of competition, alongside direct climatic limitations on distributions. To address the question of how subtropical montane tree species are likely to move as climate changes, we used an extensive national forest inventory to estimate distribution shifts of 75 tree species in Taiwan by comparing the optimum elevation and range edges of adults and juveniles within species. Overall there was a significant difference in optimum elevation of adults and juveniles. Life stage mismatches suggested upward shifts in 35% of species but downward shifts of over half (56%), while 8% appeared stable. Upward elevation shifts were disproportionately common in high elevation species, whilst mid to low elevation species suggested greater variation in shift direction. Whilst previous research on mountain forest range shifts has been dominated by work addressing changes in treeline position, we show that although high elevation species shift up, below the treeline species may shift individualistically, heralding widespread changes in forest communities over coming decades. The wide variation of responses indicated is likely driven by individual species responses to interacting environmental factors such as competition, topography and anthropogenic influences across the broad range of forest types investigated. As global environmental changes continue, more detailed understanding of tree range shifts across a wide spectrum of forests will allow us to prepare for the implications of such changes for biodiversity, ecosystem function and dependent human populations.

climate; environmental change; forest inventory; demography; species migrations

Ecography: Volume 44, Issue 1

FundersNatural Environment Research Council
Publication date31/01/2021
Publication date online08/10/2020
Date accepted by journal18/09/2020

People (2)


Professor Alistair Jump

Professor Alistair Jump

Dean of Natural Sciences, NS Management and Support

Miss Kirsten O'Sullivan

Miss Kirsten O'Sullivan

PhD Researcher, Biological and Environmental Sciences