Climate change induced elevational range shifts of Himalayan tree species

Surya Kumar Maharjan*, Frank J. Sterck, Niels Raes, Yue Zhao, Lourens Poorter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Global warming may force montane species to shift upward to keep pace with their shifting climate niche. How species differences in such distribution shifts depend on their elevational positions, elevation-dependent warming rates, and other environmental constraints, or plant functional traits is poorly understood. Here, we analyzed for 137 Himalayan tree species how distribution shifts vary with elevational niche positions, environmental constraints, and their functional traits. We developed ecological niche models using MaxEnt by combining species survey and botanical collections data with 19 environmental predictors. Species distributions were projected to 1985 and 2050 conditions, and elevational range parameters and distribution areas were derived. Under the worst-case RCP 8.5 scenario, species are predicted to shift, on average, 3 m/year in optimum elevation, and have 33% increase in distribution area. Highland species showed faster predicted elevational shifts than lowland species. Lowland and highland species are predicted to expand in distribution area in contrast to mid-elevation species. Tree species for which species distribution models are driven by responses to temperature, aridity, or soil clay content showed the strongest predicted upslope shifts. Tree species with conservative trait values that enable them to survive resource poor conditions (i.e., narrow conduits) showed larger predicted upslope shifts than species with wide conduits. The predicted average upslope shift in maximum elevation (8 m/year) is >2 times faster than the current observations indicating that many species will not be able to track climate change and potentially go extinct, unless they are supported by active conservation measures, such as assisted migration. Abstract in Nepali is available with online material.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-69
Issue number1
Early online date2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • assisted migration
  • climate change velocity
  • elevation dependent warming
  • elevational gradient
  • MaxEnt
  • Nepal
  • plant functional traits
  • species distribution modeling


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