Locations where species persisted during climatic or environmental adverse conditions, particularly during glacial periods, have been called refugia.
Although there is a rapidly growing literature on species migrations across elevation zones in temperate regions, in response to climate change, little is known about the importance of mountaintops as climate refugia in the tropics.
In a study published in Alpine Botany, researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) propose that certain high-elevation habitats could serve as climate refugia for cold-adapted plants in today’s increasingly warm interglacial period.
The researchers documented the occurrence of cold-tolerant high-mountain oaks on tropical rainforests mountaintops in the Victoria Hills, Arakan Yoma, Myanmar (21°13′11″N, 93°55′54″E, alt. 2871 m ), further south than previously described. Combining their new occurrence records with previous records of high-mountain oaks, the researchers explored the past, present and potential future climatically suitable regions of high-mountain oaks.
The results showed that the overall geographic distribution ranges were relatively stable between the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, about 21,000 years before present) and present. Besides, they showed that oaks distribution areas have been little influenced by cold periods during the LGM, and the habitats at high elevation along the mountain ranges are favorable sites for these species.
“The occurrences of cold-adapted high-mountain oaks on mountaintops amidst tropical rainforest indicate that such locations are and will be climate refugia as global warming continues”, said dr. MENG Honghu, first author of the study.
“We suggest that refugia at high elevations in tropical and subtropical regions will be of great importance to harbor biodiversity in changing environments, particularly for the alpine and/or cold-adapted relicts”, said MENG.
LI Jie Ph.D Principal Investigator
Center for Integrative Conservation, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Menglun, Mengla, Yunnan 666303, China
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