Adding “family trees” to eucalypt conservation

Adding “family trees” to eucalypt conservation

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Project Summary

Climate change will not only impact eucalypt distribution in Australia, but phylogenetic diversity (or “family trees”) as well. A startling 596 out of 657 of eucalypt species are predicted to loose suitable climate niches by 2085 according to work conducted by Dr Carlos González-Orozco and Dr Bernd Gruber of the IAE, in collaboration with a team of international scientists. Their study demonstrates the importance of considering the relatedness among species to ensure their conservation.

The team combined species distribution modelling with measures of phylogenetic diversity to predict how climate change might affect species diversity in the future. The impact resulting from a +3 degrees celsius climate change scenario, which is in line with current Australian emissions, is the loss of about half of their geographic range for 91% of species. Climate niches are expected to shift south and to higher altitudes for the majority of these species. Areas along Australia’s southern, southeast, and southwest coasts will become highly important for the conservation of old and also recently evolved eucalypt lineages, while remote the Kimberly region will increasingly be a refuge for rare, ancient lineages.

“Our study identifies areas that may be crucial in the future for species conservation,” says Dr Bernd Gruber. “These places might not be identified as current hotspots for biodiversity, but they will become vital as our climate warms. Land managers can use this information to target species and areas for conservation, for example reserving land as National Parks.”

The study demonstrates the importance of not simply counting the number of species in biodiversity conservation, but also considering the relatedness among species. Using this approach the scientists were able to identify hotspots that will be important for the future evolution of eucalypts species and in turn also for all species and ecosystems that depend on them.

This research was published in Nature Climate Change, you can read the full article here.

(Image: Dried gumnuts of Eucalyptus kingsmillii by Andrew Thornhill)