Climate change during the last five decades has impacted significantly on natural ecosystems and the rate of current climate change is of great concern among conservation biologists. Species Distribution Models (SDMs) have been used widely to project changes in species’ bioclimatic envelopes under future climate scenarios. Here, we aimed to advance this technique by assessing future changes in the bioclimatic envelopes of an entire mammalian order, the Lagomorpha, using a novel framework for model validation based jointly on subjective expert evaluation and objective model evaluation statistics. SDMs were built using climatic, topographical and habitat variables for all 87 lagomorph species under past and current climate scenarios. Expert evaluation and Kappa values were used to validate past and current models and only those deemed ‘modellable’ within our framework were projected under future climate scenarios (58 species). Phylogenetically-controlled regressions were used to test whether species traits correlated with predicted responses to climate change. Climate change is likely to impact more than two-thirds of lagomorph species, with leporids (rabbits, hares and jackrabbits) likely to undertake poleward shifts with little overall change in range extent, whilst pikas are likely to show extreme shifts to higher altitudes associated with marked range declines, including the likely extinction of Kozlov’s Pika (Ochotona koslowi). Smaller-bodied species were more likely to exhibit range contractions and elevational increases, but showing little poleward movement, and fecund species were more likely to shift latitudinally and elevationally. Our results suggest that species traits may be important indicators of future climate change and we believe multi-species approaches, as demonstrated here, are likely to lead to more effective mitigation measures and conservation management. We strongly advocate studies minimising data gaps in our knowledge of the Order, specifically collecting more specimens for biodiversity archives and targeting data deficient geographic regions.
Leach, K., Kelly, R., Cameron, A., Montgomery, W. I., & Reid, N. (2015). Expertly validated models and phylogenetically-controlled analysis suggests responses to climate change are related to species traits in the Order Lagomorpha. PLoS ONE, 10(4), [e0122267]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0122267