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Climatic changes and the fate of mountain herbivores


  • Sandro Lovari

    (University of Siena
    Maremma Natural History Museum)

  • Sara Franceschi

    (University of Siena)

  • Gianpasquale Chiatante

    (University of Pavia)

  • Lorenzo Fattorini

    (University of Siena)

  • Niccolò Fattorini

    (University of Siena)

  • Francesco Ferretti

    (University of Siena)


Mountains are strongly seasonal habitats, which require special adaptations in wildlife species living on them. Population dynamics of mountain ungulates are largely determined by the availability of rich food resources to sustain lactation and weaning during summer. Increases of temperature affect plant phenology and nutritional quality. Cold-adapted plants occurring at lower elevations will shift to higher ones, if available. We predicted what could happen to populations of mountain ungulates based on how climate change could alter the distribution pattern and quality of high-elevation vegetation, using the “clover community-Apennine chamois Rupicapra pyrenaica ornata” system. From 1970 to 2014, increasing spring temperatures (2 °C) in our study area led to an earlier (25 days) onset of green-up in Alpine grasslands between 1700 and 2000 m, but not higher up. For 1970–2070, we have projected trends of juvenile winter survival of chamois, by simulating trajectories of spring temperatures and occurrence of clover, through models depicting four different scenarios. All scenarios have suggested a decline of Apennine chamois in its historical core range, during the next 50 years, from about 28% to near-extinction at about 95%. The negative consequences of climate changes presently occurring at lower elevations will shift to higher ones in the future. Their effects will vary with the species-specific ecological and behavioural flexibility of mountain ungulates, as well as with availability of climate refugia. However, global shifts in distributional ranges and local decreases or extinctions should be expected, calling for farsighted measures of adaptive management of mountain-dwelling herbivores.

Suggested Citation

  • Sandro Lovari & Sara Franceschi & Gianpasquale Chiatante & Lorenzo Fattorini & Niccolò Fattorini & Francesco Ferretti, 2020. "Climatic changes and the fate of mountain herbivores," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 162(4), pages 2319-2337, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:162:y:2020:i:4:d:10.1007_s10584-020-02801-7
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-020-02801-7

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    References listed on IDEAS

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