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Species characteristics affect local extinctions

Meredith A Zettlemoyer, Duane D McKenna, Jennifer A Lau
American Journal of Botany 2019 April 8

PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Human activities threaten thousands of species with extinction. However, it remains difficult to predict extinction risk for many vulnerable species. Species traits, species characteristics such as rarity or habitat use, and phylogenetic patterns are associated with responses to anthropogenic environmental change and may help predict likelihood of extinction.

METHODS: We used historical botanical data from Kalamazoo County, Michigan, USA, to examine whether species traits (growth form, life history, nitrogen-fixation, photosynthetic pathway), species characteristics (community association, species origin, range edge, habitat specialization, rarity), or phylogenetic relatedness explain local species loss at the county level.

KEY RESULTS: Across Kalamazoo County, prairie species, species at the edge of their native range, regionally rare species, and habitat specialists were most likely to become locally extinct. Prairie species experienced the highest local extinction rates of any habitat type, and among prairie species, regionally rare and specialist species were most vulnerable to loss. We found no evidence for a phylogenetic pattern in plant extinctions.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study illustrates the value of historical datasets for understanding and potentially predicting biodiversity loss. Not surprisingly, rare, specialist species occupying threatened habitats are most at risk of local extinction. As a result, identifying mechanisms to conserve or restore rare or declining species and preventing further habitat destruction may be the most effective strategies for reducing future extinction.


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