Climate change may push some species to higher elevations — and out of harm’s way

Upslope movements may push species away from human pressure, which could reduce extinction risk for many mountain-dwelling species

Wildlife Conservation Society

Human pressure from agriculture, livestock grazing, and development is often more intense at mountain bases, as in this Himalayan landscape in north India. Species shifting upslope tracking rising temperatures may find more intact habitats.
(Photo credit: Paul R. Elsen WCS).

New York, NY (April 24, 2020) – A new WCS-led study reveals that mountain-dwelling species fleeing warming temperatures by retreating to higher elevations may find refuge from reduced human pressure.

A new study published in Nature Communications by scientists at WCS, the University of California, Berkeley, and the United States Forest Service shows that nearly 60 percent of all mountainous area is under intense human pressure. Most of the pressure is at low elevations and mountain bases, which tend to be easier places for people to live, grow food, and build roads. The scientists then used climate models to make predictions about how species would move under climate change. Based on their predictions, they found that species tend to move to higher elevations, and that these higher elevations tend to have more intact land for species because there is less human pressure.

Without factoring in human pressure, the authors warn that conservation actions may be misguided. Factoring in human pressure reveals the true ‘shape’ of a mountain for species that are restricted to intact landscapes, which are often the species of greatest conservation concern. Here, the ‘true shape’ refers to how much land area is potentially available as habitat for a species as it moves up in elevation, not simply how much total land area is available. The true shape can reveal where species will tend to lose versus gain intact land area as they shift under climate change: the elevations where species are expected to lose area represent the priority zones for conservation.

Mountains are home to over 85 percent of the world’s amphibians, birds, and mammals, making them global conservation priorities. But mountain-dwelling species are at risk from human activities, such as agriculture, livestock grazing, and development that reduce their habitat, and climate change that threatens to push species upslope as they struggle to find tolerable temperatures.

“Species are adapted to certain temperature conditions. As temperatures warm in mountains, scientists have documented species moving to higher elevations to maintain the same temperatures,” said Paul Elsen, a WCS Climate Adaptation Scientist and lead author of the study. “This was always seen as a problem, because species would have less land area and less habitat to occupy at high elevations. But what we found is that as species move upslope, they tend to move away from areas that are already under intense human pressure and into areas with reduced human pressure. As a result, they can occupy more intact land area, even if the total amount of land area declines.”

The authors combined several global databases to make their assessments: high-resolution digital elevation models gave a picture about how much surface area is available at different elevations. The Human Footprint Index provided information on pressure from human activities. Global climate models projected how temperatures are likely to change by the late 21st century.

The authors then used computer simulations to place hundreds of thousands of hypothetical ‘species’ across all mountain ranges at different elevations and then predicted how they would shift their ranges based on climate projections. For each simulation, they compared the amount of area the species had to begin with to the amount they would have after the range shift under climate change.

Said Elsen: “We were surprised to find that many species had more intact land area available after the range shift compared to when they started.”

The results suggest that many species in mountain ranges may have more intact land area available in the future if they track warming temperatures to higher slopes, though there were exceptions.

“Our results offer a glimmer of hope for montane species under climate change,” Elsen said. “Montane species are still facing tremendous human pressure, especially at low elevations, but we have the opportunity now to protect intact habitats at higher elevations to give these species the best possible chance going forward.”


The study, titled “Topography and human pressure in mountain ranges alter expected species responses to climate change,” was supported by the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship, funded by the Cedar Tree Foundation. The authors include Paul Elsen (Wildlife Conservation Society), William Monahan (US Forest Service), and Adina Merenlender (UC Berkeley).

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: Follow: @WCSNewsroom.

From EurekAlert!

97 thoughts on “Climate change may push some species to higher elevations — and out of harm’s way

  1. The scientists then used climate models to make predictions about how species would move under climate change.


    • I am looking forward to nights above freezing here in Ontario, so far through april there have been more nights below freezing than above. Global warming my a……..

    • What they are not mentioning is that, as the climate warms, if it were, species indeed move up the mountain but that does not mean that they leave the area where they were. So, their living band gets larger and all species are farther from extinction danger than before. The Swiss have studied this for years and know all about this. No species is forced off the top of the mountain by any climate change we have experienced in the last 13,000 years.

      The next glacial period is a whole different situation, in which the mountains become havens for species that cannot deal with solid ice and related conditions.

    • The Swiss did this work 10 years ago. They watched the species on their mountains and found that over time, with warming, the species indeed move higher on the mountain, but they also stay where they were such that they end up with a wider living band and in less danger of extinction than ever. It is during the next glacial period that mountains will become warm havens against the insidious cold.

  2. You deliberately fail to mention this:

    Global warming increases the extinction risk for COVID-19 virions; even the (not particularly warmist) White House Coronavirus Task Force has admitted this.

    Bill Bryan of the DHS last night publicly confirmed fears that rises in environmental (“indoor and outdoor”) temperatures violate the virus’ right to a stable climate, which it enjoys as a living, reproducing thing under international law. This graphic is sure to be a game-changer in our understanding of the urgent need for downwards global temperature corrections:

    Sure, COVID-19 isn’t the most charismatic icon in the fight to defend biodiversity. But science is about looking beyond the superficial. We have encroached on the virus’ habitat; we have infected and decimated it; but it’s not too late to undo the damage.

    It just takes a slight leftward adjustment of the global thermostat.

    Do you want to explain to your grandkids why they were born into a world without COVID-19?

    • All the planet saviors are already proudly acting to preserve some weeks more this endangered virus by applying the most strict lockdown.

    • Is there a tax I can pay to stop the Chinese virus… or does that logic only apply to man made Climate Change? Asking for a friend…

      • ….. don’t worry about it. The politicians will voluntarily reduce their salaries and skim-offs accordingly. Does your friend know when they will announce this …… ? I checked CNN, but couldn’t find it.

        • Philincalifornia,

          At first I thought your comment might be partly sarcastic. But then again I’ve always had a moral aversion (and therefore a heightened sensitivity) to non-literalness in all its deceitful guises: facetiousness, irony, satire, parody and so forth.

          Not to worry—I did, belatedly, decide that you were being honest. After all, when all is said and done, we do live in a world that is fundamentally truthful, rational and just, rather than the antonym of that. Why, just today I found out that documentaries apparently have to be accurate, and that if you draw attention to any misinformation in them the distributor has to retract them.

          So may faith in society was restored, and not a moment too soon—I’d literally unscrewed the lid on my bioweapon thermos.

          • Jesus H Fkin Christ, I hate globalization-associated time. WTF is wrong with this planet -fkn datelines? …. how many of those little fkers are there? I innocently got up to empty my bladder, California time, after a) not being able to convince my girlfriend to and b) suffering from the worst nightmare possible – a deluge of BBC words like ermmmm missogenisti …. mysogent …. misogennist ….. Jingoism was a salve as I sort of fell out of bed.

            I actually used to be what what 20 or 30 years ago was called a scientist and I’ll have more on that later – studies on rapamycin, cyclosprorin and other immunosuppressants etc. and how we can get on-board with XR to avoid the destruction of lovely little cuddly RNA genomes by those rapacious American middle classes.

            In the meantime, since I have have your attention, I was wondering, from reading some of your other works, do you think that the explanation for John Cook’s Na zi uniform, the pressing but yet still inscrutably, inscrutable problem of our times, could be simply a hand-me-down issue? Could it be as simple as the Regents of Harvard University think that the otherwise fabulously attractive Naomi’s arse looks big in such? Fkin old white males if so. We’re gonna need way more ammo.

      • > Is there a tax I can pay to stop the Chinese virus…

        Not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, Lou.

        Chinaviruses cause a syndrome called Yellow Peril, which has for all intents and purposes been eradicated by mass use of an opiate, multiculturalism.

        I suspect you were trying to say ‘the coronavirus.’ Coronaviruses (a subfamily of the cervezaviruses) include the SARS-CoV2 particle that causes the COVID-19 syndrome.

        The short answer to your question is “No, but…”

        No, but as the attached graphic in my last comment makes clear, there *is* a type of tax you can *refuse* to pay in order to help the war effort against this pathogen:

        The so-called carbon tax.

        Some like it hot, but viruses (like climate activists) don’t.

  3. Normally, people who write press releases manage to get the English right. In this case, the writer has managed to write a couple of seriously ambiguous sentences.

    … mountain-dwelling species fleeing warming temperatures by retreating to higher elevations may find refuge from reduced human pressure.

    So, “reduced human pressure” is a problem from which the critters are fleeing. That implies that human pressure increases as you go up the mountain.

    Mountains are home to over 85 percent of the world’s amphibians, birds, and mammals …

    So, only 15% of all those critters live in places that aren’t mountains?

    Yes, I am aware of Muphry’s Law.

      • Well, it must mean that less than 15% live in rain forests. Can’t be many in the Amazon basin then so clearing it for sugar cane methanol plantations should be good.

    • I agree with the above, …. commieBob.

      Excerpt from article:

      Mountains are home to over 85 percent of the world’s amphibians, birds, and mammals, making them global conservation priorities. But mountain-dwelling species are at risk from human activities, such as agriculture, livestock grazing, and development that reduce their habitat

      Me thinks that the scientists at the Wildlife Conservation Society apparently believe that “mountains” are any pile of dirt and rocks whose height is 100 feet above sea level.

      • I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some members of 85% of amphibian, bird, and mammal species can be found in mountainous areas. ie. some robins can be found in mountainous areas but most live elsewhere.

        I think that’s what the writer meant. On the other hand, it is possible the writer totally misunderstood the original material.

      • There’s an awful lot of farming up there on those craggy peaks with their rich black alluvial soils. No wonder the mountain goats and marmots are getting skittish.

        What’s the big deal about species going extinct? Aren’t they told coming into this game, “Adapt or make room for the next candidate”? Species have come and gone well before we showed up. What is so special about this current group of misfits, other than that we are in it?

  4. This kind of study is just denihilism by stealth. In an upcoming peer-reviewed paper (currently pending peer review), my colleagues and I propose the Extinction Denial model. And the study covered in the OP is a prime example, peddling the comforting delusion that there are still species left to benefit and/or suffer from man-made climate harassment.

    Our paper develops the ideas first laid out in my blog article. It’s depressing reading, so let me break it down gently to those who feel they could be triggered by reading the full text:

    — There are no more species left in the wild.
    — The sooner we stop bargaining with reality and move on to acceptance, the sooner we can start a conversation about how much money America owes everyone else and what an equitable repayment schedule might look like.

    • Brad, you are a seriously cynical, sarcastic and disturbed individual. The world needs more people like you.

      I am now a follower of your Climate Scepticism web site.

      You”ve made my day!

      • Klem, you’re overly generous. But I’m so glad SOMEONE notices the seriousness of my sarcasm. Most people swear on the opposite: they insist they can detect sarcasm in my seriousness. It’s enough to make you give up, and if I didn’t know there were a handful of competent readers out there—in which I now number your good self—I would have, long ago.

  5. I wonder what those guys were modelling in the seventies when global cooling on ice age were du jour.

    Birds going low, digging burrows underground ?

  6. Most animals have more common sense and self-preservation instinct than the people writing these sort of reports. At the merest hint of adverse weather, the wily creatures will take immediate evasive action to mitigate their circumstances and up stakes and off to better habitats.

  7. So this prediction must not hold in the lower 48 where surface temperature has not changed for the past 15+ years, according to the Climate Reference System.

      • I don’t like what is coming either but I can guarantee it is not for the same reason as yours.

      • No, the CRS data is not the “hiatus.” The hiatus refers to global temperatures as measured by satellites and by adjustments to a few thousand surface thermometers around the world and ocean surface temperatures as measured by ships and more recently buoys and pop-up sensors. The University of Alabama (UAH) satellite system has consistently shown a slow erratic rise amounting to a temperature increase which is much less than the computer models provide. It can be read to suggest a “hiatus” from the late 90’s to about 2015 if you wish. The other satellite system known as RSS showed the same slow rise as UAH until it was “adjusted” to show a much larger rise than before – a result closer to the models. Global surface and ocean average temperature reports have shown a consistent and faster rise over the years, largely due to administrative changes to the record. If you wish, you can see all of these temperature data sets, graphically displayed, along with the adjustments made to the sets. Should you choose to look, it will be clear that the administrative changes have substantially increased the rise rate well beyond the raw data.

        The term “hiatus” comes from the UAH and the before-adjustment RSS data when there was no change for a period of 10 – 12 years, now ended.

        The CRS system has been operating only since January, 2005, just over 15 years. You can search on NOAA and learn about this newer and highly precise system that provides very accurate climate data for the contiguous 48 states (or the middle 48 as Casey points out below.) The data are not adjusted and record true surface temperature. It shows no change since the system began operating or even a slight decline if you look very closely.

    • Just realized that the lower 48 are actually the middle 48. Alaska is north of the and Hawaii is south of them.

  8. The standard adiabatic lapse rate is approximatly 2deg C per 300 meters, up or down terrain. So the refuge-seeking wildlife will only have to change their average range 300 meters higher (2 deg C warming) or lower (2 deg C cooling) to maintain the temperature part of their environment, presuming there is any temperature change in the climate. How hard was that? Day 36 of quarantine and dogs talking about revolt. Stay sane and safe.

    • Since the change in temp is about 0.1C per decade, that’s only 15 meters.
      Since we only have 12 years left, this does not look like much of a problem.
      If you live in a high rise, rent an apartment that is three floors higher.
      Perhaps you can get bailout grant money to do climate change research?

      • If you live in a high rise, rent an apartment that is three floors higher.

        I shudda thought of that. 😊 😊

  9. “Climate change may push some species to higher elevations and out of harm’s way”

    Unless there isn’t a higher elevation then they go extinct.

      • No, I’m adaptable. I don’t have a narrow temperature range I need to remain in to survive – unlike many species. Of those species that do, those that also happen to live at the top of their temperature range ie on a hill and also can’t easily migtrate are most probably doomed. They are doomed because of the rate of the temperature increase, not necessarily the amount. It’s rate whats the problem Virginia.

        The “well thats evolution, the strong suvive and flourish” brigade ironically bandy about multi-thousand year time frames, yet willingly ignore the anthropcentric, decadal sledgehammer threatening not just species but whole systems. They seem unable to comprehend that they are also a species that needs a habitat. I feel sorry for them as they will learn the hard way. Amen.

        • Loydo:

          No, I’m adaptable.

          When you read the study, were you able to specifically identify which species cited in this study were not as similarly adaptable as you are?

          • extirpation – works every day, that’s nature – flow and flux never stands still, no matter what the channel, biologic, meteorologic, etc, etc

          • But the second study is “supportive” of a first study you didn’t read . . .

            Come on guy. Surely you see the potential problem here?

          • I’m making a contrary point. In my opinion this:

            “Our results offer a glimmer of hope for montane species under climate change,” Elsen said. “Montane species are still facing tremendous human pressure, especially at low elevations, but we have the opportunity now to protect intact habitats at higher elevations to give these species the best possible chance going forward.”

            …is like putting lipstick on a pig; a “glimmer of hope” is pretty much irrelevent in the scheme of things. The evidence suggests and logic dictates that temperature sensitive species are disproportionately vulnerable to extirpation – beacuse there is literally a cap on where they can migrate to and (despite the desperate derision) no amount of glimmer is going to help.

    • That’s right, and also allowing other species to flourish. A process that has worked brilliantly for the past few billion years.

      (Oh sorry Loydo, I meant the past 6000 years)

      • Thanks, Klem. Your “Oh sorry Loydo, I meant the past 6000 years” made me laugh. A classic.

        Stay safe and healthy, all.

    • And their intelligence helps them to survive: The animals are so clever that they can distinguish colors, for example. For example, foxes were sighted in the city area, which stopped at red at traffic lights and only dared to cross at green. “If they were to cross the road carefree at red, there would soon be no more foxes,” explains the wildlife biologist. However, foxes remain wild animals despite their proximity to the city dwellers.

      Translated with (free version)

      Source, German (The fox that stops at the red light)

      • They say there are far more coyotes in the city limits of LA than there is out in the less populated areas.

        Hungry wild animals are the same as hungry human animals, ……. the migrate to where their food is more plentiful.

    • I’ve hiked the tallest peaks in the Rocky Mts around Leadville, CO in my younger days. There isn’t much wildlife that lives up that high. There simply isn’t enough food to support any kind of a population. That’s also why there isn’t any human habitation up that high!

      • This paper is just as bad as the suggestion that warming will cause us to go to Antarctica.

    • There are regions with no elevations, great plaines, full of weat, what ever, maize, monoculture from horizon to horizon, what do you believe may be the biodiversity there ?

    • An article like this is the best opportunity for a Loydo post like the present. One can wait for it and be sure the post worth a comment as usual too 😀

  10. Simla, is the capital and the largest city of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. In 1864, Shimla was declared as the summer capital of British India, succeeding Murree, northeast of Rawalpindi. After independence, the city became the capital of Punjab and was later made the capital of Himachal Pradesh. It is the principal commercial, cultural and educational centre of the state Wikipedia

    The reason was that Simla is in the hills/mountains and is cooler in summer than lower altitudes.

    A shieling (Scottish Gaelic: àirigh), also spelt sheiling,[1] shealing and sheeling,[2] is a hut, or collection of huts, once common in wild or lonely places in the hills and mountains of Scotland and northern England. The word is also used for a mountain pasture for the grazing of cattle in summer, implying transhumance between there and a valley settlement in winter Wikipedia

    So don’t be so sure that people won’t follow the uphill migration in summer

  11. Pushing various species to higher altitudes is as plain as the nose on your face.
    The human species has to move to higher altitudes to escape the rapidly rising seal level.

    • toorightmate said, “The human species has to move to higher altitudes to escape the rapidly rising seal level.”

      We’ve been doing that since the last Ice Age, while sea levels have risen 300-400 feet. You’ve also forgotten that we’ve also had to migrate many tens, if not hundreds, of miles inland in that time period.

      Stay safe and healthy, all.

      • while sea levels have risen 300-400 feet.

        YUP, ….. and tis fer shame, fer shame, …… because the overwhelming majority of evidence that would define and support “human evolution” from its quadrupedal origin to its current bipedal locomotion is now buried somewhere under up to 450 feet of ocean water.

      • Yes, and now there is a tunnel between Dover and Calais. Imagine the next glaciation. People will scratch their head why we built a tunnel when one can just drive over there.

    • Since this all inspired by the Biblical Flood, perhaps we should all relocate to the top of Mt. Ararat.

  12. Most cold-area species–plants and fungi as well as animals–have that Southern boundary not because they do not thrive in the warmth, but because other species out-compete them there. Such vulnerable species move upslope for similar reasons.

    In college, an ecology class actually measured insect biodiversity up and down Colorado mountains. There was more insect biodiversity upslope and away from people.

    But people are just starting to learn about protecting other organisms. Another class looked at birds along Denver’s downtown Platte River. Twenty years ago, that river was full of old cars, bedsprings, milk jugs and so forth. The river was cleaned up and is now a wildlife habitat. The future looks truly bright for both human commensals and truly wild species–if we can survive the warmongering and other idiocies of our times.

    • LadyLifeGrows – April 25, 2020 at 4:41 am

      In college, an ecology class actually measured insect biodiversity up and down Colorado mountains. There was more insect biodiversity upslope and away from people.

      LadyLife, …… humans are NOT hungry predators of insects …… but they are “selective” exterminators of said.

      There is one actual factual reason that your study found a “more insect biodiversity upslope” …. and that is because both “insect” and “fruit” eating birds will not venture very far “upslope” where vegetation is scarcer simply because predator birds (eagles, kites, hawks, falcons) can more easily and successfully “launch” their attacks on any prey birds that dare venture into that domain.

      The prey birds know that “fact” …… and the ole time farmers knew that fact and is the reason, whenever possible, they planted their fruit orchards high up on top of a hill. Such planting protected their fruit crop from the birds …… as well as from “late” springtime frosts.

  13. Surface temperature is regulated by gravity.

    The reason we have thermometers at airports is because the increase in temperature at the same pressure reduces air density. The *specific heat* of a measured volume of air reduces as the density reduces, thus the *reported* temperature is *not actually representative of the energy of the mass.*

    This is the fallacy of global warming/climate change. It is proof of the unscientific ignorance of the claim of AGW.

    • The reason we have thermometers at airports is because the increase in temperature at the same pressure reduces air density.

      So, …… but that is not the same reason I have an outside thermometer.

      Knowing air density at airports is critical info for takeoffs and landings of aircrafts. And given the fact that airport personnel are constantly monitoring air temperatures, …… local meteorologists (weather reporters) simply “announce” those airport temps so that they don’t have to do the “readings n’ recordings” themselves.

      But it doesn’t matter one twit because airport temps, ….. city temps, …. suburb temps …. and rural temps are always, always different.

  14. Once again we have “climate scientists” who can’t do basic arithmetic. They assume that if the average temp is going up that it must mean that maximum temperatures are going up. They simply can’t figure out that minimum temps going up will do the same thing.

    There are very few species of any kind that will change their existing habitat range because minimum temps are going up.

  15. Fascinating! You create a computer model which includes facts that life thrives well at certain temperatures and less well at others. You program in a slow temperature rise and surprise surprise, your model tells you that critters are moving up hill!!

    Did they get paid to study this, taxpayers want to know!

  16. In all the warmist ecology articles I’ve read, which is a lot, I cannot recall a single instance of a greenie scientist saying that evolution would find a way for many species to live through anthropogenic climate change (if such a thing actually exists).

    Apparently, as atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations rise, the rate of evolution falls.

    To zero.

  17. We’re talking 5°F per 1000′ elevation change, which is 140′, BFD. At the tree line in the Rockies one can find old tree stumps several hundred feet above what is growing now, so one must assume it is getting colder, not warmer.

    • Bingo! In the Southern Appalachians the high hills have a “Canadian Zone” of spruce fir refugees from the last long ice age. I recently spotted a baby balsam that germinated circa the year 2000. It’s at the extreme end of it’s southern range. It’s at the bottom fringe of it’s lower altitude band. It’s on a hot/dry (relative to the area) South West facing slope. It’s surrounded by deciduous trees. It is vibrantly alive and well.

      It’s not supposed to be there…the darn things are migrating the wrong way!!

      • meiggs – April 25, 2020 at 6:33 am

        It’s not supposed to be there…

        Meiggs, …… FYI, ……. and neither is the …….

        Cranberry Glades— are a cluster of five small, boreal-type bogs in southwestern Pocahontas County, West Virginia, United States.

        This area, high in the Allegheny Mountains at about 3,400 feet (1,000 m), is protected as the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, part of the Monongahela National Forest. This site is the headwaters of the Cranberry River, a popular trout stream, and is adjacent to the nearly 50,000-acre (200 km2) Cranberry Wilderness.

        The Glades are a 750-acre (3.0 km2) grouping of peat bogs resembling some Canadian bogs. The gladed land is highly acidic and supports plants commonly found at higher latitudes, including cranberries, sphagnum moss, skunk cabbage, and two carnivorous plants (purple pitcher plant, sundew).

        Thousands of tourists and botanical studying college students visit the Glades every year.

        • SC Cogar: Thanks…did not know pitcher plants existed south of Maine…cool!

          I will put that on my list of things to go see.

          We had sundews in Panthertown but the darn beavers came back and flooded the place…

  18. Now, this explains why my neighbours cat has recently taken to sunbathing on the roof of my shed. And I thought the poor thing was worried about rising sea levels..

      • Todd Guenther’s reference to his family’s history in Norway and a parallel existence

        • “451: Unavailable due to legal reasons
          We recognize you are attempting to access this website from a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) including the EU which enforces the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and therefore access cannot be granted at this time.”

          • I had no idea… from the article in part

            “Asmall group of archaeologists are blazing a path into places like Wyoming’s Wind River Range, the Tetons and Montana’s Beartooth Plateau, rewriting the understanding of prehistoric people’s use of what are now high elevation wilderness areas.

            “We really need to be thinking about the Rocky Mountains in a way that we haven’t been thinking about them,” said Bonnie Pitblado, an anthropological archaeology professor at the University of Oklahoma.

            “By Clovis time (about 13,500 years ago), we have clear, clear evidence people are in the New World and they are in the Rocky Mountains and know them intimately,” she added.

            Pitblado was one of 11 researchers gathered at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West earlier this month to speak at a conference of scientists who share an interest in high altitude archaeology. Their work is shedding light on what had long been a dark spot for investigation of prehistoric sites in North America. What they are documenting — from stone tools and arrow points to soapstone bowls and woven cordage and basketry, to large campsites, animal traps and even bison jumps — are forcing academics to rethink long-held theories — namely that the high country was too inhospitable to be inhabited.

            “You need to change the way you think,” said Todd Guenther, professor of history and archaeology at Central Wyoming College in Riverton, Wyoming.

            Guenther’s study of a bison jump found at an elevation of about 10,500 feet, which he said has received “a lot of push back,” is not inconceivable given other cultures’ activities at high elevations.

            “My dad’s family came from the highest places in Norway,” he said, a harsh, extremely cold climate where hunters survived by following migratory reindeer herds. Why couldn’t early Americans have lived similarly?

            “If you had food stored up, it’s not a scary thing. It’s just being outdoors,” he said.

            An 1821 journal entry by Jacob Fowler noted that early Americans may have been more adapted to the cold, so why not their ancestors? While camped along the Arkansas River in Colorado in late November Fowler saw “… the Indian Children from toddlers to tall boys are out on the Ice by day light, and all as naked as they came into the World.”
            Mountain people
            Pitblado noted that a DNA analysis performed on the remains of what’s known as the Anzick child, found in Montana’s Shields Valley in 1968, ties early Americans and their ancestors to residents of eastern Russia and Mongolia who also lived at high elevations.
            “They were happy in the mountains,” she said.

            Based on the genetic findings, Pitblado said, “We have all of the evidence in the world … that those progenitors of Clovis were mountain people.”

            The scientists are also finding that the high country wasn’t the same as we now see it. Old whitebark pine stumps have been dated to 1,100 to 2,100 years ago in places that are now 500 feet above where trees are growing now, Guenther said.

            “These were happy, well-fed whitebark pine,” he said.

            That points to the possibility that the high country was warmer for a period of time, maybe encouraging occupation when lower elevations were stricken with drought.”

  19. From the article: “The scientists then used climate models to make predictions about how species would move under climate change.”

    There’s the problem, right there. The climate models don’t represent reality.

  20. I am surprised to learn 85% of amphibians live in the mountains. Walruses, for one example, don’t do well at higher elevations.

  21. “The scientists then used climate models to make predictions about how species would move under climate change. Based on their predictions, they found that species tend to move to higher elevations,…”

    Only academics could waste time and money on such a study.

    First off, to clarify, methinks they only considered global warming, not climate change which also includes global cooling.

    It’s well known that all species will spread to any and all habitats that are viable for them…except for the above mentioned academics, apparently.

    Since they’re studying mountain habitats, did they somehow miss the numerous articles about melting glaciers uncovering the remnants of old growth forests from 7000 years ago?

  22. Let us assume that global warming has been happening and that some creatures have moved to higher elevations.
    Do these creatures have inbuilt temperature sensors that send out messages like ” Your body is getting too hot, try moving uphill”?
    Or do the creatures change altitude because global warming has shifted their favorite foods higher up the hill, so without even thinking about it, they shift uphill automatically to follow the food?
    I have used simple descriptions here, for what might be a complicated series of mechanisms. Simple or not, why do modellers promote a need for people to get involved, to suggest the best ways for people to change the climate, the natural population densities of these creatures, invoke a need to put some in zoos to breed up numbers and a host of other human reactions to what seems to be nothing more than Nature at work in its usual ways?
    Do these researchers have so much idle time on their hands that they can invent problems, then invent solutions? Geoff S

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