Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Mapping climatic mechanisms likely to favour the emergence of novel communities


Climatic conditions are changing at different rates and in different directions1,2, potentially causing the emergence of novel species assemblages3. Here we identify areas where recent (1901–2013) changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to be producing novel species assemblages through three distinct mechanisms: emergence of novel climatic combinations4,5, rapid displacement of climatic isoclines1,2,6,7,8 and local divergences between temperature and precipitation vectors1,2. Novel climates appear in the tropics, while displacement is faster at higher latitudes and divergence is high in the subtropics and mountainous regions. Globally, novel climate combinations so far are rare (3.4% of evaluated cells), mean displacement is 3.7 km decade−1 and divergence is high (>60°) for 67% of evaluated cells. Via at least one of the proposed mechanisms, novel species assemblages are likely to be forming in the North American Great Plains and temperate forests, Amazon, South American grasslands, Australia, boreal Asia and Africa. In these areas, temperature- and moisture-sensitive species may be affected by new climates emerging, differential biotic lags to rapidly changing climates or by being pulled in opposite directions along local spatial gradients. These results provide spatially explicit hypotheses about where and why novel communities are likely to emerge due to recent climate change.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Diagram representing the differences between climatic novelty, displacement and divergence.
Figure 2: Bivariate kernel-density plots of the bearing and rate of displacement for temperature and precipitation from 1901 to 2013.
Figure 3: Global maps of climatic novelty, average displacement, divergence, and combined divergence and displacement, with kernel-density plots of divergence and displacement for the period 1901–2013.


  1. Dobrowski, S. Z. et al. The climate velocity of the contiguous United States during the 20th century. Glob. Change Biol. 19, 241–251 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Ordonez, A. & Williams, J. Projected climate reshuffling based on multivariate climate-availability, climate-analog, and climate-velocity analyses: implications for community disaggregation. Climatic Change 119, 659–675 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Hobbs, R. J., Higgs, E. S. & Hall, C. Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in The New Ecological World Order (John Wiley, 2013).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  4. Williams, J. W., Jackson, S. T. & Kutzbach, J. E. Projected distributions of novel and disappearing climates by 2100 AD . Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 5738–5742 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Jackson, S. T. & Overpeck, J. T. Responses of plant populations and communities to environmental changes of the late Quaternary. Paleobiology 26, 194–220 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Ordonez, A., Martinuzzi, S., Radeloff, V. C. & Williams, J. W. Combined speeds of climate and land-use change of the conterminous US until 2050. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 811–816 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Burrows, M. T. et al. The pace of shifting climate in marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Science 334, 652–655 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Loarie, S. R. et al. The velocity of climate change. Nature 462, 1052–1055 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Ordonez, A. Realized climatic niche of North American plant taxa lagged behind climate during the end of the Pleistocene. Am. J. Bot. 100, 1255–1265 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Parmesan, C. & Yohe, G. A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature 421, 37–42 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Chen, I. C., Hill, J. K., Ohlemüller, R., Roy, D. B. & Thomas, C. D. Rapid range shifts of species associated with high levels of climate warming. Science 333, 1024–1026 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Ordonez, A. & Williams, J. W. Climatic and biotic velocities for woody taxa distributions over the last 16 000 years in eastern North America. Ecol. Lett. 16, 773–781 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Svenning, J.-C. & Sandel, B. Disequilibrium vegetation dynamics under future climate change. Am. J. Bot. 100, 1266–1286 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. VanDerWal, J. et al. Focus on poleward shifts in species’ distribution underestimates the fingerprint of climate change. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 239–243 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Crimmins, S. M., Dobrowski, S. Z., Greenberg, J. A., Abatzoglou, J. T. & Mynsberge, A. R. Changes in climatic water balance drive downhill shifts in plant species’ optimum elevations. Science 331, 324–327 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Hijmans, R. J. Comment on “Changes in climatic water balance drive downhill shifts in plant species’ optimum elevations”. Science 334, 177 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Davis, M. B. Pleistocene biogeography of temperate deciduous forests. Geosci. Man 13, 13–26 (1976).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Williams, J. W., Shuman, B. N., Webb, T., Bartlein, P. J. & Leduc, P. L. Late-Quaternary vegetation dynamics in North America: scaling from taxa to biomes. Ecol. Monogr. 74, 309–334 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Williams, J. W. & Jackson, S. T. Novel climates, no-analog communities, and ecological surprises. Front. Ecol. Environ. 5, 475–482 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Radeloff, V. C. et al. The rise of novelty in ecosystems. Ecol. Appl. 25, 2051–2068 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Field, C. B. et al. In Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Field, C. B. et al.) 35–94 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  22. Lenoir, J., Gegout, J. C., Marquet, P. A., de Ruffray, P. & Brisse, H. A significant upward shift in plant species optimum elevation during the 20th century. Science 320, 1768–1771 (2008).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Millar, C. I., Stephenson, N. L. & Stephens, S. L. Climate change and forests of the future: Managing in the face of uncertainty. Ecol. Appl. 17, 2145–2151 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Anderson, M. G. & Ferree, C. E. Conserving the stage: climate change and the geophysical underpinnings of species diversity. PLoS ONE 5, e11554 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Parmesan, C. et al. Beyond climate change attribution in conservation and ecological research. Ecol. Lett. 16, 58–71 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Harris, I., Jones, P. D., Osborn, T. J. & Lister, D. H. Updated high-resolution grids of monthly climatic observations—the CRU TS3.10 Dataset. Int. J. Climatol. 34, 623–642 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Wilby, R. et al. Guidelines for Use of Climate Scenarios Developed from Statistical Downscaling Methods (IPCC, 2004);

    Google Scholar 

  28. Hijmans, R., Cameron, S., Parra, J., Jones, P. & Jarvis, A. Very high resolution interpolated climate surfaces for global land areas. Int. J. Climatol. 25, 1965–1978 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Ackerly, D. D. et al. The geography of climate change: implications for conservation biogeography. Diversity Distrib. 16, 476–487 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. IPCC: Summary for Policymakers. In Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Field, C. B. et al.) 1–32 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

Download references


A.O. and J.-C.S. were financially supported through grant ERC-2012-StG-310886-HISTFUNC to J.-C.S. J.W.W. was supported by NSF grants DEB-1257508 and DEB-1353896. This manuscript benefited from detailed comments by D. Ackerly.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



A.O. developed and implemented the methodological approaches, downscaled the climatic data, ran analyses and produced figures and tables. A.O., J.W.W. and J.-C.S. interpreted the results. A.O. led the writing, with the assistance of J.W.W. and J.-C.S.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alejandro Ordonez.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 2692 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ordonez, A., Williams, J. & Svenning, JC. Mapping climatic mechanisms likely to favour the emergence of novel communities. Nature Clim Change 6, 1104–1109 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing