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Existing evidence on the effects of climate variability and climate change on ungulates in North America: A systematic map

April 4, 2024


Climate is an important driver of ungulate life-histories, population dynamics, and migratory behaviors. Climate conditions can directly impact ungulates via changes in the costs of thermoregulation and locomotion, or indirectly, via changes in habitat and forage availability, predation, and species interactions. Many studies have documented the effects of climate variability and climate change on North America’s ungulates, recording impacts to population demographics, physiology, foraging behavior, migratory patterns, and more. However, ungulate responses are not uniform and vary by species and geography. Here, we present a systematic map describing the abundance and distribution of evidence on the effects of climate variability and climate change on native ungulates in North America.


We searched for all evidence documenting or projecting how climate variability and climate change affect the 15 ungulate species native to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Greenland. We searched Web of Science, Scopus, and the websites of 62 wildlife management agencies to identify relevant academic and grey literature. We screened English-language documents for inclusion at both the title and abstract and full-text levels. Data from all articles that passed full-text review were extracted and coded in a database. We identified knowledge clusters and gaps related to the species, locations, climate variables, and outcome variables measured in the literature.

Review findings

We identified a total of 674 relevant articles published from 1947 until September 2020. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), elk (Cervus canadensis), and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) were the most frequently studied species. Geographically, more research has been conducted in the western U.S. and western Canada, though a notable concentration of research is also located in the Great Lakes region. Nearly 75% more articles examined the effects of precipitation on ungulates compared to temperature, with variables related to snow being the most commonly measured climate variables. Most studies examined the effects of climate on ungulate population demographics, habitat and forage, and physiology and condition, with far fewer examining the effects on disturbances, migratory behavior, and seasonal range and corridor habitat.


The effects of climate change, and its interactions with stressors such as land-use change, predation, and disease, is of increasing concern to wildlife managers. With its broad scope, this systematic map can help ungulate managers identify relevant climate impacts and prepare for future changes to the populations they manage. Decisions regarding population control measures, supplemental feeding, translocation, and the application of habitat treatments are just some of the management decisions that can be informed by an improved understanding of climate impacts. This systematic map also identified several gaps in the literature that would benefit from additional research, including climate effects on ungulate migratory patterns, on species that are relatively understudied yet known to be sensitive to changes in climate, such as pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), and on ungulates in the eastern U.S. and Mexico.

Publication Year 2024
Title Existing evidence on the effects of climate variability and climate change on ungulates in North America: A systematic map
DOI 10.1186/s13750-024-00331-8
Authors Kate Malpeli, Sarah C. Endyke, Sarah R. Weiskopf, Laura Thompson, Ciara G. Johnson, Katherine Anne Kurth, Maxfield A. Carlin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Evidence
Index ID 70252774
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Climate Adaptation Science Center