Landscape Ecology

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 1063–1075 | Cite as

High and dry: high elevations disproportionately exposed to regional climate change in Mediterranean-climate landscapes

  • Ian M. McCullough
  • Frank W. Davis
  • John R. Dingman
  • Lorraine E. Flint
  • Alan L. Flint
  • Josep M. Serra-Diaz
  • Alexandra D. Syphard
  • Max A. Moritz
  • Lee Hannah
  • Janet Franklin
Research Article



Predicting climate-driven species’ range shifts depends substantially on species’ exposure to climate change. Mountain landscapes contain a wide range of topoclimates and soil characteristics that are thought to mediate range shifts and buffer species’ exposure. Quantifying fine-scale patterns of exposure across mountainous terrain is a key step in understanding vulnerability of species to regional climate change.


We demonstrated a transferable, flexible approach for mapping climate change exposure in a moisture-limited, mountainous California landscape across 4 climate change projections under phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) for mid-(2040–2069) and end-of-century (2070–2099).


We produced a 149-year dataset (1951–2099) of modeled climatic water deficit (CWD), which is strongly associated with plant distributions, at 30-m resolution to map climate change exposure in the Tehachapi Mountains, California, USA. We defined climate change exposure in terms of departure from the 1951–1980 mean and historical range of variability in CWD in individual years and 3-year moving windows.


Climate change exposure was generally greatest at high elevations across all future projections, though we encountered moderate topographic buffering on poleward-facing slopes. Historically dry lowlands demonstrated the least exposure to climate change.


In moisture-limited, Mediterranean-climate landscapes, high elevations may experience the greatest exposure to climate change in the 21st century. High elevation species may thus be especially vulnerable to continued climate change as habitats shrink and historically energy-limited locations become increasingly moisture-limited in the future.


Climate change Microenvironments Range shifts Climatic water deficit Microrefugia Topographic buffering 



We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the National Science Foundation Macrosystems Biology Program, NSF #EF-1065864. We thank our collaborating investigators A. Hall, K. Redmond and H. Regan for associated projects that led to this paper. We also thank J. Frew, C. Tague and L. Sweet for useful comments and suggestions. We thank the Tejon Ranch Company and the Tejon Ranch Conservancy for cooperation and land access. JM S-D acknowledges further support from the GRUMETS team 2014 SGR 1491 Generalitat de Catalunya grant. Finally, we appreciate useful comments from the journal subject editor and four peer reviewers.

Supplementary material

10980_2015_318_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 3129 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian M. McCullough
    • 1
  • Frank W. Davis
    • 1
  • John R. Dingman
    • 2
  • Lorraine E. Flint
    • 3
  • Alan L. Flint
    • 3
  • Josep M. Serra-Diaz
    • 4
  • Alexandra D. Syphard
    • 5
  • Max A. Moritz
    • 6
  • Lee Hannah
    • 7
  • Janet Franklin
    • 8
  1. 1.Bren School of Environmental Science and ManagementUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Air Resources BoardCalifornia Environmental Protection AgencySacramentoUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Geological SurveyCalifornia Water Science CenterSacramentoUSA
  4. 4.Harvard ForestHarvard UniversityPetershamUSA
  5. 5.Conservation Biology InstituteLa MesaUSA
  6. 6.Department of Environmental Science, Policy and ManagementUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  7. 7.Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science and OceansConservation InternationalArlingtonUSA
  8. 8.School of Geographical Sciences and Urban PlanningArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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