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Biology (Basel). 2012 Nov 23;1(3):736-65. doi: 10.3390/biology1030736.

Will climate change, genetic and demographic variation or rat predation pose the greatest risk for persistence of an altitudinally distributed island endemic?

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Faculty of Science Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore DC, QLD 4558, Australia.
Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW), P.O. Box 1967 Hurstville, NSW 2220, Australia.
Box 157, Lord Howe Island, NSW 2898, Australia.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB, UK.


Species endemic to mountains on oceanic islands are subject to a number of existing threats (in particular, invasive species) along with the impacts of a rapidly changing climate. The Lord Howe Island endemic palm Hedyscepe canterburyana is restricted to two mountains above 300 m altitude. Predation by the introduced Black Rat (Rattus rattus) is known to significantly reduce seedling recruitment. We examined the variation in Hedyscepe in terms of genetic variation, morphology, reproductive output and demographic structure, across an altitudinal gradient. We used demographic data to model population persistence under climate change predictions of upward range contraction incorporating long-term climatic records for Lord Howe Island. We also accounted for alternative levels of rat predation into the model to reflect management options for control. We found that Lord Howe Island is getting warmer and drier and quantified the degree of temperature change with altitude (0.9 °C per 100 m). For H. canterburyana, differences in development rates, population structure, reproductive output and population growth rate were identified between altitudes. In contrast, genetic variation was high and did not vary with altitude. There is no evidence of an upward range contraction as was predicted and recruitment was greatest at lower altitudes. Our models predicted slow population decline in the species and that the highest altitude populations are under greatest threat of extinction. Removal of rat predation would significantly enhance future persistence of this species.

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