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  1. Abstract Aim

    Identifying how climate change, habitat loss, and corridors interact to influence species survival or extinction is critical to understanding macro‐scale biodiversity dynamics under changing environments. In North America, the ice‐free corridor was the only major pathway for northward migration by megafaunal species during the last deglaciation. However, the timing and interplay among the late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions, climate change, habitat structure, and the opening and reforestation of the ice‐free corridor have been unclear.


    North America.

    Time period

    15–10 ka.

    Major taxa studied

    Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius).


    For central North America and the ice‐free corridor between 15 and 10 ka, we used a series of models and continental‐scale datasets to reconstruct habitat characteristics and assess habitat suitability. The models and datasets include biophysical and statistical niche models Niche Mapper and Maxent, downscaled climate simulations from CCSM3 SynTraCE, LPJ‐GUESS simulations of net primary productivity (NPP) and woody cover, and woody cover based upon fossil pollen from Neotoma.


    The ice‐free corridor may have been of limited suitability for traversal by mammoths and other grazers due to persistently low productivity by herbaceous plants and quick reforestation after opening 14 ka. Simultaneously, rapid reforestation and decreased forage productivity may have led to declining habitat suitability in central North America. This was possibly amplified by a positive feedback loop driven by reduced herbivory pressures, as mammoth population decline led to the further loss of open habitat.

    Main conclusions

    Declining habitat availability south of the Laurentide Ice Sheet and limited habitat availability in the ice‐free corridor were contributing factors in North American extinctions of woolly mammoths and other large grazers that likely operated synergistically with anthropogenic pressures. The role of habitat loss and attenuated corridor suitability for the woolly mammoth extinction reinforce the critical importance of protected habitat connectivity during changing climates, particularly for large vertebrates.

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  2. Abstract

    Terrestrial pollen records are abundant and widely distributed, making them an excellent proxy for past vegetation dynamics. Age-depth models relate pollen samples from sediment cores to a depositional age based on the relationship between sample depth and available chronological controls. Large-scale synthesis of pollen data benefit from consistent treatment of age uncertainties. Generating new age models helps to reduce potential artifacts from legacy age models that used outdated techniques. Traditional age-depth models, often applied for comparative purposes, infer ages by fitting a curve between dated samples. Bacon, based on Bayesian theory, simulates the sediment deposition process, accounting for both variable deposition rates and temporal/spatial autocorrelation of deposition from one sample to another within the core. Bacon provides robust uncertainty estimation across cores with different depositional processes. We use Bacon to estimate pollen sample ages from 554 North American sediment cores. This dataset standardizes age-depth estimations, supporting future large spatial-temporal studies and removes a challenging, computationally-intensive step for scientists interested in questions that integrate across multiple cores.

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  3. Abstract

    Resilient landscapes have helped maintain terrestrial biodiversity during periods of climatic and environmental change. Identifying the tempo and mode of landscape transitions and the drivers of landscape resilience is critical to maintaining natural systems and preserving biodiversity given today's rapid climate and land use changes. However, resilient landscapes are difficult to recognize on short time scales, as perturbations are challenging to quantify and ecosystem transitions are rare. Here we analyze two components of North American landscape resilience over 20,000 years: residence time and recovery time. To evaluate landscape dynamics, we use plant biomes, preserved in the fossil pollen record, to examine how long a biome type persists at a given site (residence time) and how long it takes for the biome at that site to reestablish following a transition (recovery time). Biomes have a median residence time of only 230–460 years. Only 64% of biomes recover their original biome type, but recovery time is 140–290 years. Temperatures changing faster than 0.5°C per 500 years result in much reduced residence times. Following a transition, biodiverse biomes reestablish more quickly. Landscape resilience varies through time. Notably, short residence times and long recovery times directly preceded the end‐Pleistocene megafauna extinction, resulting in regional destabilization, and combining with more proximal human impacts to deliver a one‐two punch to megafauna species. Our work indicates that landscapes today are once again exhibiting low resilience, foreboding potential extinctions to come. Conservation strategies focused on improving both landscape and ecosystem resilience by increasing local connectivity and targeting regions with high richness and diverse landforms can mitigate these extinction risks.

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  4. Plants will experience considerable changes in climate within their geographic ranges over the next several decades. They may respond by exhibiting niche flexibility and adapting to changing climates. Alternatively, plant taxa may exhibit climate fidelity, shifting their geographic distributions to track their preferred climates. Here, we examine the responses of plant taxa to changing climates over the past 18,000 y to evaluate the extent to which the 16 dominant plant taxa of North America have exhibited climate fidelity. We find that 75% of plant taxa consistently exhibit climate fidelity over the past 18,000 y, even during the times of most extreme climate change. Of the four taxa that do not consistently exhibit climate fidelity, three—elm ( Ulmus ), beech ( Fagus ), and ash ( Fraxinus )—experience a long-term shift in their realized climatic niche between the early Holocene and present day. Plant taxa that migrate longer distances better maintain consistent climatic niches across transition periods during times of the most extreme climate change. Today, plant communities with the highest climate fidelity are found in regions with high topographic and microclimate heterogeneity that are expected to exhibit high climate resilience, allowing plants to shift distributions locally and adjust to some amount of climate change. However, once the climate change buffering of the region is exceeded, these plant communities will need to track climates across broader landscapes but be challenged to do so because of the low habitat connectivity of the regions. 
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  5. Protected areas serve to preserve the remaining biodiversity on our planet. However, today, only about 14% of terrestrial lands are protected, which will not be sufficient to support the planet’s fabric of life into the future ( 1 , 2 ). Humans continue to encroach on the habitats of many plants and animals. Simultaneously, the environmental conditions within protected areas are changing because of shifting climates, pollution, and invasive species, which all fundamentally alter ecosystems globally. To effectively conserve biodiversity, researchers and policy-makers must critically reexamine both the lands being preserved and the protection strategies being used in conservation. On pages 1094 and 1101 of this issue, Allan et al. ( 3 ) and Brennan et al. ( 4 ), respectively, evaluate the preservation capacity of today’s protected areas in different but complementary ways. Allan et al. estimate the minimum land area necessary to support today’s terrestrial biodiversity, whereas Brennan et al. identify the connectedness necessary to allow wildlife to successfully adapt to global change. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    The late Quaternary fossil record provides crucial data that demonstrate how organisms respond to climate change. These records have been used to great effect, demonstrating that no-analog communities frequently occur during periods of no-analog climate, and that taxa demonstrate individualistic responses to change. However, our efforts to reconstruct biotic responses to environmental change are frequently hampered by inconsistent sampling and differential preservation of fossil taxa. We leveraged occupancy modeling methods and the fossil pollen record across eastern North America to identify circumstances under which occupancy modeling improves our ability to estimate relative abundance in four pollen taxa (Cornus, Fagus, Picea, and Pinus) through time (15 kya to present) and to identify localities where data are unreliable reflections of the local community. We found that integrating observed pollen abundance and detectability improves model performance. Low genus richness and large basin area were consistently important determinants of low detection. Our occupancy models were most informative for taxa with high enough variation in observed pollen abundance for models to be adequately calibrated. We combined occupancy model estimates of pollen abundance and detectability with a Getis-Ord statistical approach to identify spatial clusters of high or low detectability, identifying regions where a taxon’s pollen is more (or less) reliable. This work will advance the integration of ecological and paleontological sciences by allowing us to better identify whether a pollen taxon is truly absent from a fossil site or if it has simply gone undetected, allowing us to produce more robust paleoecological models. This approach will bolster our ability to identify the responses of plant communities to past climatic and anthropogenic change so that we can improve our predictions of future responses. 
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  7. Cities and agricultural fields encroach on the most fertile, habitable terrestrial landscapes, fundamentally altering global ecosystems. Today, 75% of terrestrial ecosystems are considerably altered by human activities, and landscape transformation continues to accelerate. Human impacts are one of the major drivers of the current biodiversity crisis, and they have had unprecedented consequences on ecosystem function and rates of species extinctions for thousands of years. Here we use the fossil record to investigate whether changes in geographic range that could result from human impacts have altered the climatic niches of 46 species covering six mammal orders within the contiguous United States. Sixty-seven percent of the studied mammals have significantly different climatic niches today than they did before the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Niches changed the most in the portions of the range that overlap with human-impacted landscapes. Whether by forcible elimination/introduction or more indirect means, large-bodied dietary specialists have been extirpated from climatic envelopes that characterize human-impacted areas, whereas smaller, generalist mammals have been facilitated, colonizing these same areas of the climatic space. Importantly, the climates where we find mammals today do not necessarily represent their past habitats. Without mitigation, as we move further into the Anthropocene, we can anticipate a low standing biodiversity dominated by small, generalist mammals.

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