Upward shift and elevational range contractions of subtropical mountain plants in response to climate change

Kuiling Zu, Zhiheng Wang*, Xiangyun Zhu, Jonathan Lenoir, Nawal Shrestha, Tong Lyu, Ao Luo, Yaoqi Li, Chengjun Ji, Shijia Peng, Jiahui Meng, Jian Zhou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


Elevational range shifts of mountain species in response to climate change have profound impact on mountain biodiversity. However, current evidence indicates great controversies in the direction and magnitude of elevational range shifts across species and regions. Here, using historical and recent occurrence records of 83 plant species in a subtropical mountain, Mt. Gongga (Sichuan, China), we evaluated changes in species elevation centroids and limits (upper and lower) along elevational gradients, and explored the determinants of elevational changes. We found that 63.9% of the species shifted their elevation centroids upward, while 22.9% shifted downward. The changes in centroid elevations and range size were more strongly correlated with changes in lower than upper limits of species elevational ranges. The magnitude of centroid elevation shifts was larger than predicted by climate warming and precipitation changes. Our results show complex changes in species elevational distributions and range sizes in Mt. Gongga, and that climate change, species traits and climate adaptation of species all influenced their elevational movement. As Mt. Gongga is one of the global biodiversity hotspots, and contains many threatened plant species, these findings provide support to future conservation planning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number146896
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Conservation planning
  • Elevational gradients
  • Gongga Mountain
  • Range shifts
  • Species redistribution


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