Range shifts in response to past climatic changes have been documented in a variety of species and have often resulted in the isolation of relict populations. Understanding how these isolated populations develop local adaptations or maintain their historic climatic niche is crucial to creating effective management plans in the face of current climate change. While Mountain Beavers (Aplodontia rufa) have endured through major climatic shifts in the past, they maintain physiological constraints that limit their distribution to cool, humid climates. Increasing temperatures since the last glacial maximum likely had a strong influence in reducing their range. The species now persists as 5 genetically distinct clades, but it is not clear to what extent climatic differences have driven genetic isolation compared to other factors like topography. We compared species-distribution models (SDMs) for the 5 clades of Mountain Beaver to understand whether this species tends towards niche conservatism or adapts to local climates. Presence points from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility were divided into clades and combined with climatic layers from BioClim to develop SDMs for each clade. Niche overlap was then compared to genetic relatedness between all pairings of clades. High temperatures were a limiting factor in distribution for all clades and, despite a low level of niche overlap at broad scales, Mountain Beavers appeared to display some level of niche conservatism. These landscape level SDMs showed that some clades do exist in a warmer climate than other Mountain Beavers; however, fine-scale models for the Point Arena subspecies suggested they persist by selecting the coolest places within that range. This suggests that niche overlap between clades may be higher than what is detected at the coarser scale. Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms limiting the distribution of these subspecies.
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Vol. 102 • No. 3