Genetic Data and Climate Niche Suitability Models Highlight the Vulnerability of a Functionally Important Plant Species from South-Eastern Australia Academic Article uri icon


  • Habitat fragmentation imperils the persistence of many functionally important species, with climate change a new threat to local persistence due to climate niche mismatching. Predicting the evolutionary trajectory of species essential to ecosystem function under future climates is challenging but necessary for prioritizing conservation investments. We use a combination of population genetics and niche suitability models to assess the trajectory of a functionally important, but highly fragmented, plant species from south-eastern Australia (Banksia marginata, Proteaceae). We demonstrate significant genetic structuring among, and high level of relatedness within, fragmented remnant populations, highlighting imminent risks of inbreeding. Population simulations, controlling for effective population size (N e), suggest that many remnant populations will suffer rapid declines in genetic diversity due to drift in the absence of intervention. Simulations were used to demonstrate how inbreeding and drift processes might be suppressed by assisted migration and population mixing approaches that enhance the size and connectivity of remnant populations. These analyses were complemented by niche suitability models that predicted substantial reductions of suitable habitat by 2080; ~30% of the current distribution of the species climate niche overlaps with the projected distribution of the species climate niche in the geographic region by the 2080s. Our study highlights the importance of conserving remnant populations and establishing new populations in areas likely to support B. marginata in the future, and adopting seed sourcing strategies that can help populations overcome the risks of inbreeding and maladaptation. We also argue that ecological replacement of B. marginata using climatically suited plant species might be needed in the future to maintain ecosystem processes where B. marginata cannot persist. We recommend the need for progressive revegetation policies and practices to prevent further deterioration of species such as B. marginata and the ecosystems they support.

publication date

  • September 1, 2020