5 years ago

Thirsty peaks: Drought events drive keystone shrub decline in an oceanic island mountain

Oceanic islands ecosystems are among the most endangered in the world, as the effects of ongoing climate change may potentially combine with other pre-existing drivers of plant population decline. In the Canary Islands, nitrogen-fixing Teide broom (Spartocytisus supranubius) is a keystone species in the Teide National Park high mountain ecosystem. However, recruitment failure due to introduced herbivores and dieback episodes are decimating its populations. We explored the role of climate as a potential driver of Teide broom mortality. We analyzed annual rings of Teide broom to reconstruct the impact of climate on secondary growth, intrinsic water use efficiency (iWUE) and mortality, and to explore the potential for growth rates and levels of resilience to act as indicators of mortality risk. We found that higher precipitation from October to February improved Teide broom secondary growth, whereas iWUE increased with high July–August temperatures. Extreme drought events in 2001 and 2012 strongly reduced secondary growth and resulted in subsequent plant death. Individuals that subsequently died had lower growth rates, poorer capacity for growth recovery after drought events and marginally higher iWUE than those which survived. More frequent recurrence of extreme drought events in the future would increase the frequency of dieback episodes, and the combination of a decline in mature individuals and lower recruitment rates due to exotic herbivore pressure would mean an uncertain future for the Teide broom. Our results indicate how global change may impact keystone species in protected areas and highlight the need for urgent implementation of proactive conservation policies.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0006320717309308

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