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Predicting climate change impacts on the threatened Quercus arbutifolia in montane cloud forests in southern China and Vietnam: Conservation implications

Song, Yi-Gang, Petitpierre, Blaise, Deng, Min, Wu, Jin-Ping, Kozlowski, Gregor
Forest ecology and management 2019 v.444 pp. 269-279
Quercus, climate change, conservation areas, habitat destruction, habitats, in situ conservation, models, population size, population structure, prediction, trees, tropical montane cloud forests, China, Vietnam
Trees of montane cloud forests (MCFs) often have small and isolated populations and face numerous threats. Due to limited conservation resources, management decisions are often based on scarce biological information. This study investigated the current status of populations of the critically endangered oak species Quercus arbutifolia in southern China, including its distribution, threats, population structure, and area of occupancy (AOO). Additionally, by using ensembles of small models (ESMs), the present and future (2050) distributions of climatically suitable habitats were predicted throughout south China and Vietnam. The present distribution of Q. arbutifolia is extremely fragmented, with only eight confirmed populations and a very small number of individuals (ca. 1200 in total). The results presented here show that Q. arbutifolia populations suffer from habitat destruction and fragmentation, small population size, unbalanced population structure, and pressure from strong competitor species, even though all known occurrences of Q. arbutifolia are in already established nature reserves. Based on the utilized models, the current potential distribution is limited to MCFs, and 17 new areas were predicted to have complete habitats suitability for Q. arbutifolia. However, only a small area in Fujian province will remain suitable for Q. arbutifolia in the future. The current AOO of Q. arbutifolia is very small (8.49 km2), with one-third of all populations predicted to be extinct by 2050, even under the minimum emission assumption. Finally, various actions and conservation measures, such as search for new unknown populations as well as ex situ and in situ conservation, are introduced and discussed in this paper.