Aim An important consideration when planning to conserve a species under climate change is to understand how the distribution of its food resources may also contract or shift under those same climatic conditions. Here, we use a case study to demonstrate a spatial conservation planning approach to inform decisions about where, under climate change, to protect and restore critical food and habitat resources for highly specialized species.
Location Eastern Australia.
Methods We developed fitted models for the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) and five of its key eucalypt food trees using the maximum entropy algorithm available in Maxent. We then projected these models using a range of IPCC A1FI climate change scenarios and identified areas with a higher probability of occurrence. We calculated where the koala and its food trees may co-occur under future climate change.
Results The koala and its food trees experienced significant range contractions as climate change progressed, sometimes to regions outside their current distributions. The inland species Eucalyptus camaldulensis and Eucalyptus coolabah contracted from the more arid interior, which is outside the koala range, but persisted in the eastern regions of the koala’s range, while Eucalyptus viminalis, Eucalyptus populnea and Eucalyptus tereticornis contracted eastwards and southwards, with a fragmented distribution. The highest probabilities of overlap between koalas and their food trees were identified in fragmented coastal and southern regions of the koala’s current range.
Main conclusions The application of a robust species distribution modelling decision support tool identified important changes, under climate change, in the distribution of a specialist species and its key food trees. These distributions did not change in complete synergy and therefore areas of overlap varied, depending on the food tree species modelled. This is of particular importance in a conservation planning context, when considering targeted protection and restoration of species-specific habitat resources.