Deserts have been predicted to be one of the most responsive ecosystems to global climate change. In this study, we examine the spatial and demographic response of a keystone endemic plant of the Namib Desert (Welwitschia mirabilis), for which displacement and reduction of suitable climate has been foreseen under future conditions. The main aim is to assess the association between ongoing climate change and geographical patterns of welwitschia health, reproductive status, and size. We collected data on welwitschia distribution, health condition, reproductive status, and plant size in northern Namibia. We used ecological niche models to predict the expected geographic shift of suitability under climate change scenarios. For each variable, we compared our field measurements with the expected ongoing change in climate suitability. Finally, we tested the presence of simple geographical gradients in the observed patterns. The historically realized thermal niche of welwitschia will be almost completely unavailable in the next 30 years in northern Namibia. Expected reductions of climatic suitability in our study sites were strongly associated with indicators of negative population conditions, namely lower plant health, reduced recruitment and increased adult mortality. Population condition does not follow simple latitudinal or altitudinal gradients. The observed pattern of population traits is consistent with climate change trends and projections. This makes welwitschia a suitable bioindicator (i.e. a 'sentinel') for climate change effect in the Namib Desert ecosystems. Our spatially explicit approach, combining suitability modeling with geographic combinations of population conditions measured in the field, could be extensively adopted to identify sentinel species, and detect population responses to climate change in other regions and ecosystems.
|Titolo:||Climate change effects on desert ecosystems: A case study on the keystone species of the Namib Desert Welwitschia mirabilis|
|Data di pubblicazione:||2021|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||1.1 Articolo in rivista|