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.

Elevated extinction risk of cacti under climate change


Cactaceae (cacti), a New World plant family, is one of the most endangered groups of organisms on the planet. Conservation planning is uncertain as it is unclear whether climate and land-use change will positively or negatively impact global cactus diversity. On the one hand, a common perception is that future climates will be favourable to cacti as they have multiple adaptations and specialized physiologies and morphologies for increased heat and drought. On the other hand, the wide diversity of the more than 1,500 cactus species, many of which occur in more mesic and cooler ecosystems, questions the view that most cacti can tolerate warmer and drought conditions. Here we assess the hypothesis that cacti will benefit and expand in potential distribution in a warmer and more drought-prone world. We quantified exposure to climate change through range forecasts and associated diversity maps for 408 cactus species under three Representative Concentration Pathways (2.6, 4.5 and 8.5) for 2050 and 2070. Our analyses show that 60% of species will experience a reduction in favourable climate, with about a quarter of species exposed to environmental conditions outside of the current realized niche in over 25% of their current distribution. These results show low sensitivity to many uncertainties in forecasting, mostly deriving from dispersal ability and model complexity rather than climate scenarios. While current range size and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List category were not statistically significant predictors of predicted future changes in suitable climate area, epiphytes had the greatest exposure to novel climates. Overall, the number of cactus species at risk is projected to increase sharply in the future, especially in current richness hotspots. Land-use change has previously been identified as the second-most-common driver of threat among cacti, affecting many of the ~31% of cacti that are currently threatened. Our results suggest that climate change will become a primary driver of cactus extinction risk with 60–90% of species assessed negatively impacted by climate change and/or other anthropogenic processes, depending on how these threat processes are distributed across cactus species.

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

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Comparison of predicted current cactus species richness.
Fig. 2: Standard deviation of predicted current species richness.
Fig. 3: Predicted SAR relative to the present for 2061–2080.
Fig. 4: Map of modeling decisions explaining the most uncertainty in species richness.

Data availability

Occurrence data used for analyses are available only upon request to protect the many threatened species modelled. Requests should be made through the BIEN portal at Bioclimate data were retrieved from the CHELSA repository, version 1.2 (; CMIP5). Expert maps were obtained from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the IUCN SSC Cactus and Succulent Plants Specialist Group. IUCN Red List categories were obtained from the IUCN Red List database ( The Human Footprint map for 2009 (at a resolution of 1 km) was downloaded from Venter et al.38.

Code availability

Code is available at


  1. Boyle, T. H. & Anderson, E. in Cacti: Biology and Uses (ed. Nobel, P. S.) 125–141 (Univ. California Press, 2002).

  2. Gibson, A. C. & Nobel, P. S. The Cactus Primer (Harvard Univ. Press, 1986).

  3. Bravo Hollis, H. & Sánchez Mejorada, H. Las Cactáceas de México (Univ. Nacional Autónoma de México, 1978).

  4. Goettsch, B. et al. High proportion of cactus species threatened with extinction. Nat. Plants 1, 15142 (2015).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Benavides, E., Breceda, A. & Anadón, J. D. Winners and losers in the predicted impact of climate change on cacti species in Baja California. Plant Ecol. 222, 29–44 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Nobel, P. S. Responses of some North American CAM plants to freezing temperatures and doubled CO2 concentrations: implications of global climate change for extending cultivation. J. Arid. Environ. 34, 187–196 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Reyes-García, C. & Andrade, J. L. Crassulacean acid metabolism under global climate change. N. Phytol. 181, 754–757 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Smith, S. D., Didden-Zopfy, B. & Nobel, P. S. High-temperature responses of North American cacti. Ecology 65, 643–651 (1984).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Larios, E., González, E. J., Rosen, P. C., Pate, A. & Holm, P. Population projections of an endangered cactus suggest little impact of climate change. Oecologia 192, 439–448 (2020).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Esparza-Olguı́n, L., Valverde, T. & Vilchis-Anaya, E. Demographic analysis of a rare columnar cactus (Neobuxbaumia macrocephala) in the Tehuacan Valley, Mexico. Biol. Conserv. 103, 349–359 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Seal, C. E. et al. Thermal buffering capacity of the germination phenotype across the environmental envelope of the Cactaceae. Glob. Change Biol. 23, 5309–5317 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Huang, J., Yu, H., Guan, X., Wang, G. & Guo, R. Accelerated dryland expansion under climate change. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 166–171 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Gurvich, D. E. et al. Combined effect of water potential and temperature on seed germination and seedling development of cacti from a mesic Argentine ecosystem. Flora 227, 18–24 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Nuzhyna, N., Baglay, K., Golubenko, A. & Lushchak, O. Anatomically distinct representatives of Cactaceae Juss. family have different response to acute heat shock stress. Flora 242, 137–145 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Andrade, J. L. & Nobel, P. S. Microhabitats and water relations of epiphytic cacti and ferns in a lowland neotropical forest. Biotropica 29, 261–270 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Williams, D. G., Hultine, K. R. & Dettman, D. L. Functional trade-offs in succulent stems predict responses to climate change in columnar cacti. J. Exp. Bot. 65, 3405–3413 (2014).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Aragón-Gastélum, J. L. et al. Induced climate change impairs photosynthetic performance in Echinocactus platyacanthus, an especially protected Mexican cactus species. Flora Morphol. Distrib. Funct. Ecol. Plants 209, 499–503 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Martorell, C., Montañana, D. M., Ureta, C. & Mandujano, M. C. Assessing the importance of multiple threats to an endangered globose cactus in Mexico: cattle grazing, looting and climate change. Biol. Conserv. 181, 73–81 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Dávila, P., Téllez, O. & Lira, R. Impact of climate change on the distribution of populations of an endemic Mexican columnar cactus in the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley, Mexico. Plant Biosyst. 147, 376–386 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Conver, J. L., Foley, T., Winkler, D. E. & Swann, D. E. Demographic changes over >70 yr in a population of saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea) in the northern Sonoran Desert. J. Arid. Environ. 139, 41–48 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Carrillo-Angeles, I. G., Suzán-Azpiri, H., Mandujano, M. C., Golubov, J. & Martínez-Ávalos, J. G. Niche breadth and the implications of climate change in the conservation of the genus Astrophytum (Cactaceae). J. Arid. Environ. 124, 310–317 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. de Cavalcante, A. M. B. & de Duarte, A. S. Modeling the distribution of three cactus species of the Caatinga biome in future climate scenarios. Int. J. Ecol. Environ. Sci. 45, 191–203 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  23. de Cavalcante, A. M. B., de Duarte, A. S. & Ometto, J. P. H. B. Modeling the potential distribution of Epiphyllum phyllanthus (L.) Haw. under future climate scenarios in the Caatinga biome. An. Acad. Bras. Cienc. 92, 351–358 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Tellez-Valdes, O. & DiVila-Aranda, P. Protected areas and climate change: a case study of the cacti in the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan biosphere reserve, Mexico. Conserv. Biol. 17, 846–853 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. dos Santos Simões, S., Zappi, D., da Costa, G. M., de Oliveira, G. & Aona, L. Y. S. Spatial niche modelling of five endemic cacti from the Brazilian Caatinga: past, present and future. Austral Ecol. 45, 1–13 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gorostiague, P., Sajama, J. & Ortega-Baes, P. Will climate change cause spatial mismatch between plants and their pollinators? A test using Andean cactus species. Biol. Conserv. 226, 247–255 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Butler, C. J., Wheeler, E. A. & Stabler, L. B. Distribution of the threatened lace hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii) under various climate change scenarios. J. Torre. Bot. Soc. 139, 46–55 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Johnson, C. N. Species extinction and the relationship between distribution and abundance. Nature 394, 272–274 (1998).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Thuiller, W., Lavorel, S. & Araújo, M. B. Niche properties and geographical extent as predictors of species sensitivity to climate change. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 14, 347–357 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Enquist, B. J. Cyberinfrastructure for an integrated botanical information network to investigate the ecological impacts of global climate change on plant biodiversity. Preprint at PeerJ (2016).

  31. Buisson, L., Thuiller, W., Casajus, N., Lek, S. & Grenouillet, G. Uncertainty in ensemble forecasting of species distribution. Glob. Change Biol. 16, 1145–1157 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Thuiller, W., Guéguen, M., Renaud, J., Karger, D. N. & Zimmermann, N. E. Uncertainty in ensembles of global biodiversity scenarios. Nat. Commun. 10, 1446 (2019).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  33. Goettsch, B., Durán, A. P. & Gaston, K. J. Global gap analysis of cactus species and priority sites for their conservation. Conserv. Biol. 33, 369–376 (2018).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. Maitner, B. S. et al. The bien R package: A tool to access the Botanical Information and Ecology Network (BIEN) database. Methods Ecol. Evol. 9, 373–379 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Karger, D. N. et al. Climatologies at high resolution for the Earth’s land surface areas. Sci. Data 4, 170122 (2017).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  36. Sanderson, B. M., Knutti, R. & Caldwell, P. A representative democracy to reduce interdependency in a multimodel ensemble. J. Clim. 28, 5171–5194 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Brodzik, M. J., Billingsley, B., Haran, T., Raup, B. & Savoie, M. H. EASE-Grid 2.0: Incremental but significant improvements for Earth-gridded data sets. ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 1, 32–45 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Venter, O. et al. Global terrestrial human footprint maps for 1993 and 2009. Sci. Data 3, 160067 (2016).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  39. Phillips, S. maxnet: Fitting ‘maxent’ species distribution models with ‘glmnet’. R package version 0.1.4. (2017).

  40. Friedman, J., Hastie, T. & Tibshirani, R. Regularization paths for generalized linear models via coordinate descent. J. Stat. Softw. 33, 1–22 (2010).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  41. Dormann, C. F. et al. Collinearity: a review of methods to deal with it and a simulation study evaluating their performance. Ecography 36, 27–46 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Franklin, S. B., Gibson, D. J., Robertson, P. A., Pohlmann, J. T. & Fralish, J. S. Parallel analysis: a method for determining significant principal components. J. Veg. Sci. 6, 99–106 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Roberts, D. R. et al. Cross-validation strategies for data with temporal, spatial, hierarchical, or phylogenetic structure. Ecography 40, 913–929 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Merow, C., Smith, M. J. & Silander, J. A. A practical guide to MaxEnt for modeling species’ distributions: what it does, and why inputs and settings matter. Ecography 36, 1058–1069 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Allouche, O., Tsoar, A. & Kadmon, R. Assessing the accuracy of species distribution models: prevalence, kappa and the true skill statistic (TSS). J. Appl. Ecol. 43, 1223–1232 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Calabrese, J. M., Certain, G., Kraan, C. & Dormann, C. F. Stacking species distribution models and adjusting bias by linking them to macroecological models. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 23, 99–112 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. R Core Team R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing Version 3.6.0 (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, 2019).

Download references


M.P. was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under grant number DGE-1746060. M.P. is grateful to T. Davis for his feedback. We are indebted to the many individuals who made this project possible by collecting and reporting occurrence data.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



M.P. created, developed and led the project. B.G. contributed expert maps. All authors contributed to the analyses. M.P. drafted the manuscript, and all authors provided comments on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michiel Pillet.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Plants thanks Lucas Majure, Ángela P. Cuervo-Robayo and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–7 and Supplementary Tables 1–3.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pillet, M., Goettsch, B., Merow, C. et al. Elevated extinction risk of cacti under climate change. Nat. Plants 8, 366–372 (2022).

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