Diverging Responses of Tropical Andean Biomes under Future Climate Conditions

Observations and projections for mountain regions show a strong tendency towards upslope displacement of their biomes under future climate conditions. Because of their climatic and topographic heterogeneity, a more complex response is expected for biodiversity hotspots such as tropical mountain regions. This study analyzes potential changes in the distribution of biomes in the Tropical Andes and identifies target areas for conservation. Biome distribution models were developed using logistic regressions. These models were then coupled to an ensemble of 8 global climate models to project future distribution of the Andean biomes and their uncertainties. We analysed projected changes in extent and elevational range and identified regions most prone to change. Our results show a heterogeneous response to climate change.

Although the wetter biomes exhibit an upslope displacement of both the upper and the lower boundaries as expected, most dry biomes tend to show downslope expansion. Despite important losses being projected for several biomes, projections suggest that between 74.8% and 83.1% of the current total Tropical Andes will remain stable, depending on the emission scenario and time horizon. Between 3.3% and 7.6% of the study area is projected to change, mostly towards an increase in vertical structure. For the remaining area (13.1%–17.4%), there is no agreement between model projections. These results challenge the common believe that climate change will lead to an upslope displacement of biome boundaries in mountain regions. Instead, our models project diverging responses, including downslope expansion and large areas projected to remain stable. Lastly, a significant part of the area expected to change is already affected by land use changes, which has important implications for management. This, and the inclusion of a comprehensive uncertainty analysis, will help to inform conservation strategies in the Tropical Andes, and to guide similar assessments for other tropical mountains.