Refugia have long been studied from paleontological and biogeographical perspectives to understand how populations persisted during past periods of unfavorable climate. Recently, researchers have applied the idea to contemporary landscapes to identify climate change refugia, here defined as areas relatively buffered from contemporary climate change over time that enable persistence of valued physical, ecological, and socio-cultural resources.

We conducted detailed resurveys of a montane mammal, Urocitellus beldingi, to examine the effects of climate change on persistence along the trailing edge of its range. Of 74 California sites where U. beldingi were historically recorded (1902–1966), 42 per cent were extirpated, with no evidence for colonization of previously unoccupied sites. Increases in both precipitation and temperature predicted site extirpations, potentially owing to snowcover loss. Surprisingly, human land-use change buffered climate change impacts, leading to increased persistence and abundance.