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Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution


Biodiversity hotspots host a high diversity of narrowly distributed endemic species, which are increasingly threatened by climate change. In eastern North America, the highest concentration of plant diversity and endemism occurs in the Southern Appalachian Mountains (SAM). It has been hypothesized that this region served as a refugium during Pleistocene glacial cycles and that postglacial migration northward was dispersal limited. We tested this hypothesis using species distribution models for eight forest herb species. We also quantified the extent to which the geography of suitable habitat shifted away from the current range with climate change. We developed species distribution models for four forest herb species endemic to the SAM and four that co-occur in the same SAM habitats but have broader ranges. For widespread species, we built models using (1) all occurrences and (2) only those that overlap the SAM hotspot in order to evaluate the extent of Hutchinsonian shortfalls and the potential for models to predict suitable habitat beyond the SAM. We evaluated the extent to which predicted climatically suitable areas are projected to shift away from their current ranges under future climate change. We detected unoccupied but suitable habitat in regions up to 1,100 km north of the endemic species’ ranges. Endemic ranges are disjunct from suitable northern areas due to a ∼100–150 km gap of unsuitable habitat. Under future climate change, models predicted severe reductions in suitable habitat within current endemic ranges. For non-endemic species, we found similar overall patterns and gap of unsuitability in the same geographic location. Our results suggest a history of dispersal limitation following the last glacial maximum along with an environmental barrier to northward migration. Conservation of endemic species would likely require intervention and assisted migration to suitable habitat in northern New England and Canada.


assisted migration, biogeographical barriers, dispersal limitation, endemic species, forest herbs, geographic range limits, range expansion, species distribution models






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