Projected Range Contractions of European Protected Oceanic Montane Plant Communities: Focus on Climate Change Impacts Is Essential for Their Future Conservation
Hodd, Rory L.
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Hodd, R.L. Bourke, D and Sheehy Skeffington, M (2014) 'Projected Range Contractions of European Protected Oceanic Montane Plant Communities: Focus on Climate Change Impacts Is Essential for Their Future Conservation'. Plos One, 9 (4).
Global climate is rapidly changing and while many studies have investigated the potential impacts of this on the distribution of montane plant species and communities, few have focused on those with oceanic montane affinities. In Europe, highly sensitive bryophyte species reach their optimum occurrence, highest diversity and abundance in the north-west hyperoceanic regions, while a number of montane vascular plant species occur here at the edge of their range. This study evaluates the potential impact of climate change on the distribution of these species and assesses the implications for EU Habitats Directive-protected oceanic montane plant communities. We applied an ensemble of species distribution modelling techniques, using atlas data of 30 vascular plant and bryophyte species, to calculate range changes under projected future climate change. The future effectiveness of the protected area network to conserve these species was evaluated using gap analysis. We found that the majority of these montane species are projected to lose suitable climate space, primarily at lower altitudes, or that areas of suitable climate will principally shift northwards. In particular, rare oceanic montane bryophytes have poor dispersal capacity and are likely to be especially vulnerable to contractions in their current climate space. Significantly different projected range change responses were found between 1) oceanic montane bryophytes and vascular plants; 2) species belonging to different montane plant communities; 3) species categorised according to different biomes and eastern limit classifications. The inclusion of topographical variables in addition to climate, significantly improved the statistical and spatial performance of models. The current protected area network is projected to become less effective, especially for specialised arctic-montane species, posing a challenge to conserving oceanic montane plant communities. Conservation management plans need significantly greater focus on potential climate change impacts, including models with higher-resolution species distribution and environmental data, to aid these communities' long-term survival.