Research ArticleECOLOGY

Climate warming drives local extinction: Evidence from observation and experimentation

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Science Advances  21 Feb 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 2, eaaq1819
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaq1819


Despite increasing concern about elevated extinction risk as global temperatures rise, it is difficult to confirm causal links between climate change and extinction. By coupling 25 years of in situ climate manipulation with experimental seed introductions and both historical and current plant surveys, we identify causal, mechanistic links between climate change and the local extinction of a widespread mountain plant (Androsace septentrionalis). Climate warming causes precipitous declines in population size by reducing fecundity and survival across multiple life stages. Climate warming also purges belowground seed banks, limiting the potential for the future recovery of at-risk populations under ameliorated conditions. Bolstered by previous reports of plant community shifts in this experiment and in other habitats, our findings not only support the hypothesis that climate change can drive local extinction but also foreshadow potentially widespread species losses in subalpine meadows as climate warming continues.

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