Species with relatively narrow niches, such as plants restricted (endemic) to particular soils, may be especially vulnerable to extinction under a changing climate due to the enhanced difficulty they face in migrating to suitable new sites. To test for community-level effects of climate change, and to compare such effects in a highly endemic-rich flora on unproductive serpentine soils vs. the flora of normal (diorite) soils, in 2007 we resampled as closely as possible 108 sites originally studied by ecologist Robert H. Whittaker from 1949 to 1951 in the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon, USA. We found sharp declines in herb cover and richness on both serpentine and diorite soils. Declines were strongest in species of northern biogeographic affinity, species endemic to the region (in serpentine communities only), and species endemic to serpentine soils. Consistent with climatic warming, herb communities have shifted from 1949-1951 to 2007 to more closely resemble communities found on xeric (warm, dry) south-facing slopes. The changes found in the Siskiyou herb flora suggest that biotas rich in narrowly distributed endemics may be particularly susceptible to the effects of a warming climate.
Additional publication details
Climate change effects on an endemic-rich edaphic flora: resurveying Robert H. Whittaker's Siskiyou sites (Oregon, USA)