Rear‐edge populations are important for understanding climate change risk and adaptation potential of threatened species

Abstract

Climate change disproportionately threatens alpine species, by reducing available habitat and by isolating their populations. These pressures are particularly relevant for rear-edge populations, which typically occupy more marginal habitat compared to populations at the core of species’ ranges. We studied Caucasian grouse Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi in the Caucasus ecoregion, a global biodiversity hotspot where this species is endemic, to understand potential climate change impacts on the species. Specifically, we assessed how climate change impacts rear-edge populations and how important these populations are for understanding range shifts and adaptive capacity under climate change. We used maximum entropy modeling to assess changes in the distribution of climatically suitable habitat under present and 2070 climate conditions for the representative concentration pathways 8.5 (RCP8.5). Our results revealed that ignoring rear-edge populations leads to a significant underestimation of the future range (by about 14,700 km2). Rear-edge populations were better adapted to warmer climates compared to core populations, and ignoring them, therefore, also underestimates adaptive capacity. Preventing the loss of rear-edge populations should, therefore, be a priority for conservation planning in the face of climate change. Because the Caucasian grouse is associated with alpine mountain tops, conservation should focus on establishing connectivity between rear-edge and core populations (e.g., via transboundary corridors or assisted colonizations). Our study reveals how species distribution modeling can highlight the importance of rear-edge populations for mitigating climate change impacts on species of conservation concern.

Publication
Conservation Science and Practice, 3(5)
Arash Ghoddousi
Arash Ghoddousi
Senior Researcher
Benjamin Bleyhl
PhD student & Postdoctoral Researcher
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab