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Is climate change pushing gymnosperms against the wall in the northwestern Himalayas?

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Primarily occurring at the cold and high-elevation end of the climatic spectrum, gymnosperms could be especially vulnerable to climate change. Here, we assessed the potential distribution of wild gymnosperm species under current and projected future climates across the northwestern Himalayas in order to identify the species with higher risks of habitat loss. Using 1200 occurrence records of 19 gymnosperm species distributed across three biogeographically distinct regions of the northwestern Himalayas, we checked species spatial autocorrelation and then thinned the records using 5 × 5 km grid cells resulting in 390 geo-referenced points for generating species distribution models (SDMs) using six bioclimatic variables and elevation. The projected changes were modeled over time periods of 2040–2060 and 2061–2080 under Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5, using bioclimatic variables from four global circulation models (GCMs). The predictor variables with the highest permutation values were annual precipitation (mean: 30.26%, range: 0.13–73.73%), elevation (mean: 14.48%, range: 0.06–46.49%), and annual mean temperature (mean: 11.94%, range: 0–61.84%) while relatively small differences were observed in other environmental variables. Under the projected future climate scenarios, all conifers are expected to exhibit a steady reduction in their extent of high potential areas (HPA) except for Pinus roxburghii, with the decline being more severe for Abies pindrow, A. spectabilis, and Picea smithiana in both near (2050) and more distant (2070) futures. Steady reductions in distribution were projected across the sub-tropical and temperate regions, but no such trend was observed in the arid cold regions. Our quantitative assessment of potential distribution ranges might be used to develop science-based adaptation policies to improve the resilience of vulnerable gymnosperms and their natural ecosystems to current and future climate change across the northwestern Himalayas.

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We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Groups on Regional Climate and Coupled Modelling. We thank all the climate modeling groups that produced and made available their model output. Scheme vide Award no. 13 (9091-A)/2019) awarded to the first author is acknowledged. We are grateful to the editor of REC and anonymous reviewers who helped us to improve the quality of this MS. We thank Akhtar H. Malik for his input on a few species and Kathleen Condon for proofreading the final version of the manuscript.


This work was supported by the Human Resource Development Group (HRDG) of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), India, under Senior Research Associateship (Scientist’s Pool Schemes) Program.

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Correspondence to Irfan Rashid.

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Communicated by Wolfgang Cramer

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Dad, J.M., Rashid, I. & Chen, A. Is climate change pushing gymnosperms against the wall in the northwestern Himalayas?. Reg Environ Change 23, 51 (2023).

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