Identifying refugia and corridors under climate change conditions for the Sichuan snub‐nosed monkey in China

Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys in Qinling Mountains, China. Photo by Giovanni Mari.

Climate change can have profound effects on species distributions and movement, and therefore is a major threat to biodiversity. For endemic species, or those found in only one geographic region, these effects are even more pronounced.

Because of their limited ranges, climate change may eliminate existing suitable habitat for endemic species. To survive under future conditions, these species may have to migrate through corridors to new habitats that become suitable in the future. However, climate change and other human disturbances often impact these corridor habitats as well, and could eliminate the potential for future migrations.

The Sichuan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana) is endemic to China and has a very limited range. There are estimated to be only 22,000 individuals of this species today, and they occupy three separated temperate montane forests.

Sichuan snub-nosed monkeys are highly selective feeders; they mostly feed on lichens, found primarily on dead trees. Unfortunately, dead trees are often harvested or removed, thus reducing habitat quality and food availability. In addition, tourism to see these monkeys is a major threat and leads to habitat disturbance. Finally, on top of these existing challenges, climate change is expected to reduce the availability of their habitat even further.

Golden Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana) range, as of 2010.

New research, focused on the impacts of climate change on this endangered species, used species distribution modeling to predict suitable habitat under future climate scenarios.

First, researchers matched today’s distribution of the monkeys with environmental variables to determine what factors determine suitable habitat. Data came from camera traps, literature searches, and patrols by national park workers. Next, they modeled the effects of climate change on this suitable habitat. According to the ecological requirements of the species, they further refined the habitat areas that could sustain subpopulations and the corridors that could serve as sanctuaries in the future.

Habitat suitability for Rhinopithecus roxellanain Hubei Province. (a) depicts the models under the current climate. (b) is the projection of habitat suitability by the 2050s. Figure reproduced from Zhang et al. (2019).

Their analysis led to the identification of potential future habitat for this species under climate change conditions, and importantly, dispersal pathways that could facilitate their movement to these areas. The authors identified strategic areas that should be prioritized during conservation efforts. Fortunately, the key habitats are primarily located within existing national parks and reserves, which means there is strong potential for these regions to be used to protect the moneys into the future.

The authors argue that conservation efforts should focus on building a corridor between the two main protected areas, ensuring habitat connectivity. Beyond this one endangered species, the findings of this paper support the idea that increasing connectivity between habitats is an important management tool to help species deal with the effects of climate change.

 

Resources

Zhang, Y., C. Clauzel, J. Li, Y. Xue, Y. Zhang, G. Wu, P. Giraudoux, L. Li, D. Li (2019). Identifying refugia and corridors under climate change conditions for the Sichuan snubnosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana) in Hubei Province, China. Ecology and Evolution 9(4): 1680-1690.

2019-05-10T21:08:53-04:00 May 10th, 2019|

About the Author:

Elizabeth Schultheis
I am a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University. My work includes research in plant biology and science education, professional development for scientists on science communication, and teacher professional development on data in the classroom. I am a co-founder of Data Nuggets, an innovative approach to bring cutting edge research and authentic data into K-16 classrooms.