Evaluation of assisted colonization strategies under global change for a rare, fire-dependent plant

Authors


Correspondence: Helen Regan, tel. + 1 951 827 3961, fax + 1 951 827 4286, e-mail: helen.regan@ucr.edu

Abstract

As a clear consensus is emerging that habitat for many species will dramatically reduce or shift with climate change, attention is turning to adaptation strategies to address these impacts. Assisted colonization is one such strategy that has been predominantly discussed in terms of the costs of introducing potential competitors into new communities and the benefits of reducing extinction risk. However, the success or failure of assisted colonization will depend on a range of population-level factors that have not yet been quantitatively evaluated – the quality of the recipient habitat, the number and life stages of translocated individuals, the establishment of translocated individuals in their new habitat and whether the recipient habitat is subject to ongoing threats all will play an important role in population persistence. In this article, we do not take one side or the other in the debate over whether assisted colonization is worthwhile. Rather, we focus on the likelihood that assisted colonization will promote population persistence in the face of climate-induced distribution changes and altered fire regimes for a rare endemic species. We link a population model with species distribution models to investigate expected changes in populations with climate change, the impact of altered fire regimes on population persistence and how much assisted colonization is necessary to minimize risk of decline in populations of Tecate cypress, a rare endemic tree in the California Floristic Province, a biodiversity hotspot. We show that assisted colonization may be a risk-minimizing adaptation strategy when there are large source populations that are declining dramatically due to habitat contractions, multiple nearby sites predicted to contain suitable habitat, minimal natural dispersal, high rates of establishment of translocated populations and the absence of nonclimatic threats such as altered disturbance regimes. However, when serious ongoing threats exist, assisted colonization is ineffective.

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