Unveiling the conservation biogeography of a data-deficient endangered bird species under climate change

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Abstract

It remains a challenge to identify the geographical patterns and underlying environmental associations of species with unique ecological niches and distinct behaviors. This in turn hinders our understanding of the ecology as well as effective conservation management of threatened species. The white-eared night heron (Gorsachius magnificus) is a non-migratory nocturnal bird species that has a patchy distribution in the mountainous forests of East Asia. It is currently categorized as "Endangered" on the IUCN Red List, primarily due to its restricted range and fragmented habitat. To improve our knowledge of the biogeography and conservation of this species, we modeled the geographical pattern of its suitable habitat and evaluated the potential impacts of climate change using ecological niche modeling with a maximum entropy approach implemented in Maxent. Our results indicated that the amount of suitable habitat in all of East Asia was about 130 000 km2, which can be spatially subdivided into several mountain ranges in southern and southwestern China and northern Vietnam. The extent of suitable habitat range may shrink by more than 35% under a predicted changing climate when assuming the most pessimistic condition of dispersal, while some more suitable habitat would be available if the heron could disperse unrestrainedly. The significant future changes in habitat suitability suggested for Gorsachius magnificus urge caution in any downgrading of Red List status that may be considered. Our results also discern potentially suitable areas for future survey efforts on new populations. Overall, this study demonstrates that ecological niche modeling offers an important tool for evaluating the habitat suitability and potential impacts of climate change on an enigmatic and endangered species based on limited presence data. © 2014 Hu, Liu.

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Hu, J., & Liu, Y. (2014). Unveiling the conservation biogeography of a data-deficient endangered bird species under climate change. PLoS ONE, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0084529

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