Ecol. Lett. (2019)

Plant and animal ranges are expected to shift towards cooler areas such as the poles or higher elevations under climate change. However, despite their more favourable climates, other characteristics of these new habitats might be less advantageous for expansion. For example, soil type changes with climate and with elevation on mountains, which might affect range shifts for plants.

Credit: Imagebroker / Alamy Stock Photo

With warming-induced elevation shifts, trees are expected to infringe upon meadows and meadows on bare soils. Kevin Ford and Janneke HilleRisLambers from the University of Washington, USA, investigated the impact of climate and soil on the ranges of meadow and tree species by transplanting seedlings and different soil types along a climate gradient on Mount Rainier (USA). Climate and soil type affected the establishment of the transplants. Although responses differed among species, meadow soil was generally more favourable than bare ground under the more benign conditions expected with climate change, indicating that meadows may shrink faster owing to expanding forests than they can expand upwards.

These results highlight the importance of non-climatic factors in determining the adaptation capacity of species under climate change.