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Climate-induced range contraction drives genetic erosion in an alpine mammal


Increasing documentation of changes in the distribution of species provides evidence of climate change impacts1, yet surprisingly little empirical work has endeavoured to quantify how such recent and rapid changes impact genetic diversity2. Here we compare modern and historical specimens spanning a century to quantify the population genetic effects of a climate-driven elevational range contraction in the alpine chipmunk, Tamias alpinus, in Yosemite National Park, USA. Previous work showed that T. alpinus responded to warming in the park by retracting its lower elevational limit upslope by more than 500 m, whereas the closely related chipmunk T. speciosus remained stable3,4. Consistent with a reduced and more fragmented range, we found a decline in overall genetic diversity and increased genetic subdivision in T. alpinus. In contrast, there were no significant genetic changes in T. speciosus over the same time period. This study demonstrates genetic erosion accompanying a climate-induced range reduction and points to decreasing size and increasing fragmentation of montane populations as a result of global warming.

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Figure 1: Study area and sampling localities.
Figure 2: Changes in genetic population structure and diversity.


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We are grateful to C. Conroy, the YNP resurvey field team, C. Patton and L. Chow for their role in collecting the modern field data and P. Elsen for his assistance in the lab. E.M.R. was supported by a National Science & Engineering Research Council PGS-D award, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and the Environmental Science, Policy and Management Department at the University of California, Berkeley, during this research. The project was financially supported by the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, the Yosemite Fund, the National Geographic Society and the National Science Foundation.

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E.M.R., J.L.P. and C.M. designed the study; E.M.R., J.L.P. and M.L. collected data; E.M.R. analysed and interpreted data; E.M.R., C.M., A.C.B. and J.S.B. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Emily M. Rubidge.

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Rubidge, E., Patton, J., Lim, M. et al. Climate-induced range contraction drives genetic erosion in an alpine mammal. Nature Clim Change 2, 285–288 (2012).

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