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Long-Term Changes in the Dominance of Drought Tolerant Trees Reflect Climate Trends on a Micronesian Island

Abstracts

Background: The Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands of Micronesia lie in the western Pacific Ocean and are unique in terms of their isolation, climate, soils and diversity of rare plant species. We hypothesized that the vegetation on the islands will be a robust model system to study long-term climate change impacts on vegetation dynamics.

Methods: A large, long-term vegetation monitoring plot was established on Chichijima Island and measured in 1976 and 2017. It was located in an undisturbed dry forest area that contained many endemic and endangered species.

Results: During the 41 year study period, total basal area of tree species increased by 24.6% and was dominated by Schima, Distylium and Pouteria, whereas tree density declined by 30%. Tree genera exhibiting the largest increases in basal area were Elaeocarpus, Ilex, Pandanus, Pouteria, Rhaphiolepis, Syzgium and Schima. During the study period, the annual average (23.2ºC), minimum and maximum temperatures increased by 0.5 to 0.8ºC, respectively. The average annual precipitation was 1276 mm with severe droughts occurring in 1980, 1990 and 2016. The largest increases in the basal area were exhibited in trees species with wide functional distribution and attributes, including drought tolerance.

Conclusions: The results of this study suggest a link between the drought tolerance, species dominance and climate change at the study location. Our unique approach of linking functional attributes with long-term vegetation and climate change can serve as a model for other studies of global change impacts.

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