Range contraction to a higher elevation: the likely future of the montane vegetation in South Africa and Lesotho
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Global climate change is a major challenge for the future with serious potential impacts on biodiversity. Biodiversity in mountains is particularly vulnerable as many montane species are adapted to narrow microhabitats, making them less able to adjust to a climatic change. It is considered important to investigate range changes in the South African Great Escarpment because of the high levels of biodiversity in these mountains, as well as their importance for water provision in South Africa. The current and future ranges of 46 montane plant species in South Africa and Lesotho were therefore modelled using biomod in R, using presence points and predictor variables which included rainfall and temperature worldclim layers. The performance of distribution models produced was evaluated using the Area Under the receiver operating Curve (AUC), True Skill Statistic (TSS), Sensitivity and Specificity. We calculated beta diversity and species richness changes between current and future climates for the group of 46 species, as well as shifts of the predicted presence region boundaries and centroids. We also analysed shifts in minimum, median and maximum elevations. Results show a contraction in species’ ranges towards higher elevation as has been documented from other mountain regions around the world. These results are a cause for concern as a warming climate is decreasing the potential regions of occurrence of montane species in South Africa and Lesotho’s mountainous regions of high biodiversity. This region is under a diverse range of conservation and land use management practises, and our results suggest a coordinated response to climate change is needed.