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Land Use Compounds Habitat Losses under Projected Climate Change in a Threatened California Ecosystem

Erin Coulter Riordan, Philip W. Rundel
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Journal Article
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Given the rapidly growing human population in mediterranean-climate systems, land use may pose a more immediate threat to biodiversity than climate change this century, yet few studies address the relative future impacts of both drivers. We assess spatial and temporal patterns of projected 21(st) century land use and climate change on California sage scrub (CSS), a plant association of considerable diversity and threatened status in the mediterranean-climate California Floristic Province. Using a species distribution modeling approach combined with spatially-explicit land use projections, we model habitat loss for 20 dominant shrub species under unlimited and no dispersal scenarios at two time intervals (early and late century) in two ecoregions in California (Central Coast and South Coast). Overall, projected climate change impacts were highly variable across CSS species and heavily dependent on dispersal assumptions. Projected anthropogenic land use drove greater relative habitat losses compared to projected climate change in many species. This pattern was only significant under assumptions of unlimited dispersal, however, where considerable climate-driven habitat gains offset some concurrent climate-driven habitat losses. Additionally, some of the habitat gained with projected climate change overlapped with projected land use. Most species showed potential northern habitat expansion and southern habitat contraction due to projected climate change, resulting in sharply contrasting patterns of impact between Central and South Coast Ecoregions. In the Central Coast, dispersal could play an important role moderating losses from both climate change and land use. In contrast, high geographic overlap in habitat losses driven by projected climate change and projected land use in the South Coast underscores the potential for compounding negative impacts of both drivers. Limiting habitat conversion may be a broadly beneficial strategy under climate change. We emphasize the importance of addressing both drivers in conservation and resource management planning.

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