Climate-driven range shifts in the United States: evidence from a hypothesis-driven framework and systematic review

Madeleine A. Rubenstein1, Shawn L. Carter1, Mitchell J. Eaton2, Jeremy S. Littell3, Abigail J. Lynch1, Brian W. Miller4, Toni Lyn Morelli5, Adam J. Terando2, Laura M.  Thompson1, Sarah R.  Weiskopf1

1National Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey, Reston, United States,

2Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey, Raleigh, USA,

3Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey, Anchorage, USA,

4North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey, Boulder, USA,

5Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, US Geological Survey, Amherst, USA


Climate change represents one of the foremost drivers of ecological change, yet its impacts on biodiversity remain largely uncertain. Although the volume of scientific studies on climate-driven range shifts has grown in recent years, projections still vastly outnumber documented cases. Specific mechanisms remain difficult to isolate, given numerous potential drivers and high variability in observed shifts across species and regions. A framework for evaluating empirical evidence of range shifts is needed to assess commonly held hypotheses (e.g., poleward latitudinal shifts, upslope elevational shifts), clarify why species do and do not conform to expectations, and inform management responses. Using a hypothesis-driven approach, we assess climate-driven range shifts for species in the United States for which data are available. Through a systematic literature review of documented range shifts, and a combination of quantitative meta-analyses and qualitative confidence assessments, we evaluate the body of evidence on climate-driven range shifts and estimate the prevalence and magnitude of these changes. Furthermore, we use a climate change vulnerability framework to determine why observations support or fail to support commonly held hypotheses. Our analysis examines how varying levels of exposure, sensitivity, and capacity to adapt explain many of the idiosyncrasies associated with climate-driven range shifts. This work provides an iterative framework within which future observations can be added to further refine hypotheses. Our analysis provides updated evidence on where, how, and why species are shifting their ranges under climate change, and presents valuable information to inform a range of climate adaptation and wildlife management strategies.


Sarah received her M.S. in wildlife ecology from the University of Delaware in 2016 and a B.S. in wildlife conservation and a B.A. in biology from the University of Delaware in 2014. Her previous research has included quantifying snow leopard dietary habits in the Central Asian steppe and using camera trapping and a novel method — DNA extraction from terrestrial leech blood meals — to study biodiversity and habitat fragmentation in Asian tropical rainforests. Sarah joined the USGS in 2016 as a Presidential Management Fellow, where she has served as a chapter lead on the Ecosystems, Biodiversity, and Ecosystems Services chapter of the Fourth National Climate Assessment and as a U.S. Delegate to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. During her fellowship, she also spent several months working on international biodiversity issues at the Department of State Office of Conservation and Water.

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