A low-altitude mountain range as an important refugium for two narrow endemics in the Southwest Australian Floristic Region biodiversity hotspot

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Abstract

Background and Aims Low-altitude mountains constitute important centres of diversity in landscapes with little topographic variation, such as the Southwest Australian Floristic Region (SWAFR). They also provide unique climatic and edaphic conditions that may allow them to function as refugia. We investigate whether the Porongurups (altitude 655 m) in the SWAFR will provide a refugium for the endemic Ornduffia calthifolia and O. marchantii under forecast climate change.

Methods We used species distribution modelling based on WorldClim climatic data, 30-m elevation data and a 2-m-resolution LiDAR-derived digital elevation model (DEM) to predict current and future distributions of the Ornduffia species at local and regional scales based on 605 field-based abundance estimates. Future distributions were forecast using RCP2.6 and RCP4.5 projections. To determine whether local edaphic and biotic factors impact these forecasts, we tested whether soil depth and vegetation height were significant predictors of abundance using generalized additive models (GAMs).

Key Results Species distribution modelling revealed the importance of elevation and topographic variables at the local scale for determining distributions of both species, which also preferred shadier locations and higher slopes. However, O. calthifolia occurred at higher (cooler) elevations with rugged, concave topography, while O. marchantii occurred in disturbed sites at lower locations with less rugged, convex topography. Under future climates both species are likely to severely contract under the milder RCP2.6 projection (approx. 2 °C of global warming), but are unlikely to persist if warming is more severe (RCP4.5). GAMs showed that soil depth and vegetation height are important predictors of O. calthifolia and O. marchantii distributions, respectively.

Conclusions The Porongurups constitute an important refugium for O. calthifolia and O. marchantii, but limits to this capacity may be reached if global warming exceeds 2 °C. This capacity is moderated at local scales by biotic and edaphic factors.

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