There is little doubt that predicted changes in climate (IPCC,2007) are of an order of magnitude that they are likely to affect large herbivores in Europe in a number of ways. Whichever predictive models are used, the general expectation for future climate is for greater levels of precipitation, warmer temperatures, and perhaps most significantly an overall increase in variability (IPCC, 2007). However, at the regional level, both variation and uncertainty is expected to be much higher.
It is important to realise that climate in itself is not necessarily the only limitation for the current distribution ranges of all ungulate species, whose range may also be affected by both natural and artificial barriers, by patterns of land use (and urbanisation), by direct management, or by the fact that they are still colonising (Groot Bruinderink et al., 2003). This, combined with the absence of published assessments of how the distribution of different large herbivore species may be affected by climate, make our attempt here a risky business in terms of accuracy of predictions. However, with that said, what might we nevertheless expect? We focus, in the following, mainly on global distribution patterns.
In general, large herbivores can be both directly and indirectly affected by climate. Direct effects of climate are mainly related to thermoregulation either due to extreme heat or cold (Parker and Robbins, 1985), water limitation (Wallach et al., 2007), and costs of moving in snow (Parker et al., 1984).