Acacia, the thorny flat-topped tree that characterises the African savannas, is an important component of ecosystem diversity. However, the researchers found that the majority of Acacia biodiversity 'hotspots' receive little protection through the protected area network, which includes national parks, nature and forest reserves. The situation, they say, may be exacerbated by climate change.
The results of the study, which was led by researchers from the Environment Department's Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Dynamics (KITE) and Centre for the Integration of Research Conservation and Learning (CIRCLE), and involved the Missouri Botanical Garden (St Louis, USA) and the East African Herbarium (Nairobi, Kenya), are published in the journal Plant Ecology and Evolution.
The researchers found that two thirds of Acacia diversity hotspots had less than 10 per cent coverage by protected areas. They also conclude that due to climate change, high-elevation, moisture-dependent species of Acacia may contract their ranges towards mountain peaks, where protected areas are dominated by forest reserves. These areas provide only a low level of protection compared to national parks and nature reserves.
Dr Andy Marshall, from the University's Environment Department and Director of Conservation Science at Flamingo Land Theme Park and Zoo, said: "The Acacia is one of Africa's most iconic groups of trees, but our data suggest protected areas such as national parks do not really conserve them. This is most likely because most protected areas were originally established to protect big game rather than to protect biodiversity and plants."
"Our data suggest that if we were to take the existing protected areas and place them completely at random across the area, we would get a better coverage of Acacia diversity than the current distribution."
Principal Investigator Dr Rob Marchant, also from York's Environment Department, said: "Plants have long been over-looked in the design of protected area systems despite their role as the foundation of all terrestrial ecosystems, harnessing the Sun's energy and providing nutrients for the entire food chain.
"As conservation continues to develop a 'biodiversity for livelihoods' mandate, information on plant distributions and the ways in which ecosystems will respond to future climatic and economic developments is crucial."
Acacia includes a number of species that dominate extensive areas of East African woodland, wooded grassland and bushland. It occurs across a wide range of ecosystems, from arid deserts to mountain forests, and ranges from small shrubs to large trees.
The researchers used distribution modelling to predict the present day distribution of Acacia in East Africa and to establish how well members of the species are conserved under the current protected network. They also used regional climate forecasts to estimate the potential impact of climate change on two Acacia species of differing ecology, with one mountain species' range shrinking away from the highest designation of protected areas.
Dr Marshall said: "The question for managers is how best to deal with the potential mismatch between biodiversity and the current protected area network, both now and in the future. The strongest and most effective means of biodiversity conservation has consistently been in the establishment of protected areas.
"While new conservation efforts do not necessarily have to follow the traditional format of protected areas and should involve working closely with local people, the most important factor is that they are based on solid science underpinned by excellent data."
The research team are now carrying out ground surveys in remote and inhospitable locations to test the predictions of their work. The initial findings from these expeditions appear to agree with their predictions. A further publication is planned for 2013.
Caron Lett | Source: EurekAlert!
Further information: www.york.ac.uk
Further Reports about: African elephant > African public sector > Conservation Science > economic development > ecosystem diversity > Environment > forest reserves > iconic plants > moisture-dependent species > mountain peaks > nature reserve > Plant Ecology > protected areas
More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:
Industrial Age Helps Some Coastal Regions Capture Carbon Dioxide
06.12.2013 | Ohio State University
Rising Ocean Acidification Leads to Anxiety in Fish
05.12.2013 | University of California - San Diego
International team of scientists develops new feedback method for optimizing the laser pulse shapes used in the control of chemical reactions
In many ways, traditional chemical synthesis is similar to cooking. To alter the final product, you can change the ingredients or their ratio, change the method of mixing ingredients, or change the temperature or pressure of the environment of the ingredients.
Like an accomplished chef, chemists have become very skilled ...
A genetic defect protects mice from infection with influenza viruses
A new study published in the scientific journal PLOS Pathogens points out that mice lacking a protein called Tmprss2 are no longer affected by certain flu viruses.
The discovery was made by researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig in collaboration with colleagues from Göttingen and ...
The Light: Global study gets underway with online user survey
Light has a fundamental impact on our sense of well-being and performance. In cooperation with Zumtobel, a supplier of lighting solutions, Fraunhofer IAO has launched a global user survey of lighting quality in offices. The objective is to identify the best lighting conditions for a variety of spaces and lighting ...
Quantum entanglement, a perplexing phenomenon of quantum mechanics that Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance,” could be even spookier than Einstein perceived.
Physicists at the University of Washington and Stony Brook University in New York believe the phenomenon might be intrinsically linked with wormholes, hypothetical features of space-time that in popular science fiction can provide a much-faster-than-light shortcut from one part of the universe to another.
But here’s the catch: One couldn’t actually ...
A star is formed when a large cloud of gas and dust condenses and eventually becomes so dense that it collapses into a ball of gas, where the pressure heats the matter, creating a glowing gas ball – a star is born.
New research from the Niels Bohr Institute, among others, shows that a young, newly formed star in the Milky Way had such an explosive growth, that it was initially about 100 times brighter than it is now. The results are published in the scientific journal, Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The young ...
06.12.2013 | Materials Sciences
06.12.2013 | Life Sciences
06.12.2013 | Life Sciences
05.12.2013 | Event News
04.12.2013 | Event News
12.11.2013 | Event News