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Ecol Appl. 2012 Sep;22(6):1852-64.

Ecosystem greenspots: identifying potential drought, fire, and climate-change micro-refuges.

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  • 1The Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia.


In response to climate change and other threatening processes there is renewed interest in the role of refugia and refuges. In bioregions that experience drought and fire, micro-refuges can play a vital role in ensuring the persistence of species. We develop and apply an approach to identifying potential micro-refuges based on a time series of remotely sensed vegetation greenness (fraction of photosynthetically active radiation intercepted by the sunlit canopy; fPAR). The primary data for this analysis were NASA MODIS 16-day L3 Global 250 m (MOD13Q1) satellite imagery. This method draws upon relevant ecological theory (source sink habitats, habitat templet) to calculate a micro-refuge index, which is analyzed for each of the major vegetation ecosystems in the case-study region (the Great Eastern Ranges of New South Wales, Australia). Potential ecosystem greenspots were identified, at a range of thresholds, based on an index derived from: the mean and coefficient of variance (COV) of fPAR over the 10-year time series; the minimum mean annual fPAR; and the COV of the 12 values of mean monthly fPAR. These greenspots were mapped and compared with (1) an index of vascular plant species composition, (2) environmental variables, and (3) protected areas. Potential micro-refuges were found within all vegetation ecosystem types. The total area of ecosystem greenspots within the upper 25% threshold was 48 406 ha; around 0.2% of the total area of native vegetation (23.9 x 10(6) ha) in the study region. The total area affected by fire was 3.4 x 10(6) ha. The results of the environmental diagnostic analysis suggest deterministic controls on the geographical distribution of potential micro-refuges that may continue to function under climate change. The approach is relevant to other regions of the world where the role of micro-refuges in the persistence of species is recognized, including across the world's arid zones and, in particular, for the Australian, southern African, and South American continents. Micro-refuge networks may play an important role in maintaining beta-diversity at the bio-region scale and contribute to the stability, resilience, and adaptive capacity of ecosystems in the face of ever-growing pressures from human-forced climate change, land use, and other threatening processes.

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