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Up in the air: threats to Afromontane biodiversity from climate change and habitat loss revealed by modelling and landscape genetics of the Ethiopian Highlands long-eared bat
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  • Orly Razgour,
  • Mohammed Kasso,
  • Helena Santos,
  • Javier Juste
Orly Razgour
University of Exeter
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Mohammed Kasso
Dire Dawa University
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Helena Santos
Research Network in Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology, Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (InBIO-CIBIO)
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Javier Juste
Estacion Biologica de Donana CSIC
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Abstract

Whilst climate change is recognised as a major future threat to biodiversity, most species are currently threatened by extensive human-induced habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation. Tropical high altitude alpine and montane forest ecosystems and their biodiversity are particularly sensitive to temperature increases under climate change, but they are also subject to accelerated pressures from land conversion and degradation due to a growing human population. We studied the combined effects of anthropogenic land-use change, past and future climate changes and mountain range isolation on the endemic Ethiopian Highlands long-eared bat, Plecotus balensis, an understudied bat that is restricted to the remnant natural high altitude Afroalpine and Afromontane habitats. We integrated ecological niche modelling, landscape genetics and model-based inference to assess the genetic, geographic and demographic impacts of past and recent environmental changes. We show that mountain range isolation and historic climates shaped population structure and patterns of genetic variation, but recent anthropogenic land-use change and habitat degradation are associated with a severe population decline and loss of genetic diversity. Our models predict that the suitable niche of this bat has been progressively shrinking since the last glaciation period. This study highlights threats to tropical montane biodiversity, squeezed to higher altitudes under climate change while losing genetic diversity and suffering population declines due to anthropogenic land-use change. We conclude that assessments of threats to biodiversity under global change should adopt a holistic approach, simultaneously studying the effects of multiple threats across temporal scales based on genetic, ecological and geographic information.

Peer review status:UNDER REVIEW

02 Jun 2020Submitted to Molecular Ecology
04 Jun 2020Reviewer(s) Assigned
01 Jul 2020Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending