Remnant sugar maple (Acer saccharum subsp. skutchii) populations at their range edge: Characteristics, environmental constraints and conservation implications in tropical America

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Relationships between environmental conditions and persistence of populations at edges of ranges should be useful for predicting consequences of climate change. We characterized environmental conditions of six disjunct sites in Mexico and Guatemala that contain all known relict populations of the most southern subspecies of sugar maple, cloud forest sugar maple (Acer saccharum subsp. skutchii). We also sampled abundance and basal area of all tree species, recording 164 species, 92 genera (61% tropical), and 54 families at these sites. Temperate genera decreased in number from north to south, but mixtures of temperate and tropical species were co-dominant with cloud forest sugar maple at all sites. For all species, basal area was 24-52m 2ha -1 and density was 990-2986 trees/ha at the six sites. Cloud forest sugar maple comprised 7-43% of total basal area and 1-16% of total densities at each site. Populations of cloud forest sugar maple currently are vulnerable to environmental change. Anthropogenic disturbance is negatively affecting four populations, and regeneration is successfully occurring in only two sites. As a result, densities and basal area are much reduced compared to more northern temperate populations. NMS-ordination indicated that elevation and hurricane frequency are major environmental constraints related to abundance. Maple recruitment is associated with short hurricane return intervals that maintain higher elevation cloud forests in states conducive for regeneration. We establish the conservation status of cloud forest sugar maple at the southern end of its range relative to expected climate change and propose this subspecies be included in the IUCN-Red List. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

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Biological Conservation

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