Life at the Peaks: Wildlife Responses to Rapid Climate Change in the High Andes

Authors: Kelsey Reider*, Florida International University, Maureen A Donnelly, Florida International University
Topics: Global Change, Mountain Environments, Animal Geographies
Keywords: climate change, wildlife, Andes, amphibians, extreme environments, elevational range shifts
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Regent, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Research in tropical alpine areas provides a window into some of the most rapidly changing, yet least-studied, ecosystems on Earth. In the Cordillera Vilcanota in southeastern Perú, research conducted over more than a decade has revealed dramatic responses to climate change. Global elevation records for amphibians and lizards have been set in the Vilcanota, because these animals are colonizing new habitat at the retreating edges of melting glaciers and expanding upslope in response to climate change. For some aquatic species, this upward expansion may be temporary (i.e., an ecological trap) if continued glacier cover loss causes the water table to drop and breeding ponds disappear in the future. The Vilcanota has also yielded some of the best evidence that climate change can directly facilitate the spread of a deadly wildlife disease (i.e., the amphibian chytrid fungus) to very high elevations. Rapid deglaciation has also opened new wildlife corridors and trekking routes from the Amazonian slope to the altiplano. This increased accessibility, combined with continuing deglaciation and reduced water availability are likely to increase human-human and human-wildlife conflicts. The possibility that climate change will severely reduce the population of humans, livestock, and wildlife that ecosystems, including high mountain ecosystems, can support may represent one of the greatest unknowns in global change biology. As a living climate change laboratory, the Cordillera Vilcanota provides unparalleled opportunities to understand ongoing and future changes in high mountain ecosystems, and to take a truly collaborative approach to future research in this coupled human-natural system.

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