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Climate change impacts on endemic, high-elevation lichens in a biodiversity hotspot

Allen, Jessica L., Lendemer, James C.
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.3 pp. 555-568
biodiversity, biogeography, case studies, climate change, fungi, habitats, indigenous species, lichens, models, surveys, Appalachian region
Previous studies of the impacts of climate change on lichens and fungi have focused largely on alpine and subalpine habitats, and have not investigated the potential impact on narrowly endemic species. Here, we estimate the impacts of climate change on high-elevation, endemic lichens in the southern Appalachians, a global diversity hotspot for many groups of organisms, including lichens. We conducted extensive field surveys in the high elevations of the region to accurately document the current distributions of eight narrowly endemic lichen species. Species distribution modeling was used to predict how much climatically suitable area will remain within, and north of, the current range of the target species under multiple climate change scenarios at two time points in the future. Our field work showed that target species ranged from extreme rarity to locally abundant. Models predicted over 93 % distributional loss for all species investigated and very little potentially suitable area north of their current distribution in the coming century. Our results indicate that climate change poses a significant threat to high-elevation lichens, and provide a case study in the application of current modeling techniques for rare, montane species.