Aim Predictive species distribution modelling is a useful tool for extracting the maximum amount of information from biological collections and floristic inventories. However, in many tropical regions records are only available from a small number of sites. This can limit the application of predictive modelling, particularly in the case of rare and endangered species. We aim to address this problem by developing a methodology for defining and mapping species pools associated with climatic variables in order to investigate potential species turnover and regional species loss under climate change scenarios combined with anthropogenic disturbance.
Location The study covered an area of 6800 km2 in the highlands of Chiapas, southern Mexico.
Methods We derived climatically associated species pools from floristic inventory data using multivariate analysis combined with spatially explicit discriminant analysis. We then produced predictive maps of the distribution of tree species pools using data derived from 451 inventory plots. After validating the predictive power of potential distributions against an independent historical data set consisting of 3105 botanical collections, we investigated potential changes in the distribution of tree species resulting from forest disturbance and climate change.
Results Two species pools, associated with moist and cool climatic conditions, were identified as being particularly threatened by both climate change and ongoing anthropogenic disturbance. A change in climate consistent with low-emission scenarios of general circulation models was shown to be sufficient to cause major changes in equilibrium forest composition within 50 years. The same species pools were also found to be suffering the fastest current rates of deforestation and internal forest disturbance. Disturbance and deforestation, in combination with climate change, threaten the regional distributions of five tree species listed as endangered by the IUCN. These include the endemic species Magnolia sharpii Miranda and Wimmeria montana Lundell. Eleven vulnerable species and 34 species requiring late successional conditions for their regeneration could also be threatened.
Main conclusions Climatically associated species pools can be derived from floristic inventory data available for tropical regions using methods based on multivariate analysis even when data limitations prevent effective application of individual species modelling. Potential consequences of climate change and anthropogenic disturbance on the species diversity of montane tropical forests in our study region are clearly demonstrated by the method.