Extinction risk in cloud forest fragments under climate change and habitat loss

Ponce-Reyes, R., Nicholson, E., Baxter, P.W.J., Fuller, R.A. & Possingham, H.P. 2013. Extinction risk in cloud forest fragments under climate change and habitat loss. Diversity and Distributions, 19, 518-529.

Aim To quantify the consequences of major threats to biodiversity, such as climate and land-use change, it is important to use explicit measures of species persistence, such as extinction risk. The extinction risk of metapopulations can be approximated through simple models, providing a regional snapshot of the extinction probability of a species. We evaluated the extinction risk of three species under different climate change scenarios in three different regions of the Mexican cloud forest,  a highly fragmented habitat that is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Location Cloud forests in Mexico. Methods Using Maxent, we estimated the potential distribution of cloud forest for three different time horizons (2030, 2050 and 2080) and their overlap with protected areas. Then, we calculated the extinction risk of three contrasting ver- tebrate species for two scenarios: (1) climate change only (all suitable areas of cloud forest through time) and (2) climate and land-use change (only suitable areas within a currently protected area), using an explicit patch-occupancy approximation model and calculating the joint probability of all populations becoming extinct when the number of remaining patches was less than five.

Results Our results show that the extent of environmentally suitable areas for cloud forest in Mexico will sharply decline in the next 70 years. We discovered that if all habitat outside protected areas is transformed, then only species with small area requirements are likely to persist. With habitat loss through climate change only, high dispersal rates are sufficient for persistence, but this requires protection of all remaining cloud forest areas.

Main conclusions Even if high dispersal rates mitigate the extinction risk of species due to climate change, the synergistic impacts of changing climate and land use further threaten the persistence of species with higher area requirements. Our approach for assessing the impacts of threats on biodiversity is particularly useful when there is little time or data for detailed population viability analyses.

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