Thermophilization of adult and juvenile tree communities in the northern tropical Andes

Alvaro Duque, Pablo R. Stevenson, Kenneth J. Feeley

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66 Scopus citations


Climate change is expected to cause shifts in the composition of tropical montane forests towards increased relative abundances of species whose ranges were previously centered at lower, hotter elevations. To investigate this process of "thermophilization," we analyzed patterns of compositional change over the last decade using recensus data from a network of 16 adult and juvenile tree plots in the tropical forests of northern Andes Mountains and adjacent lowlands in northwestern Colombia. Analyses show evidence that tree species composition is strongly linked to temperature and that composition is changing directionally through time, potentially in response to climate change and increasing temperatures. Mean rates of thermophilization [thermal migration rate (TMR), °C·y-1] across all censuses were 0.011 °C·y-1 (95% confidence interval = 0.002-0.022 °C·y-1) for adult trees and 0.027 °C·y-1 (95% confidence interval = 0.009-0.050 °C·y-1) for juvenile trees. The fact that thermophilization is occurring in both the adult and juvenile trees and at rates consistent with concurrent warming supports the hypothesis that the observed compositional changes are part of a long-term process, such as global warming, and are not a response to any single episodic event. The observed changes in composition were driven primarily by patterns of tree mortality, indicating that the changes in composition are mostly via range retractions, rather than range shifts or expansions. These results all indicate that tropical forests are being strongly affected by climate change and suggest that many species will be at elevated risk for extinction as warming continues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10744-10749
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number34
StatePublished - Aug 25 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Conservation biogeography
  • Dispersal modes
  • Species migrations
  • Thermal niches

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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