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Two Decades of Orchid Range Dynamics in Western Europe

Paper Reviewed
Vogt-Schilb, H., Munoz, F., Richard, F. and Schatz, B. 2015. Recent declines and range changes of orchids in Western Europe (France, Belgium and Luxembourg). Biological Conservation 190: 133-141.

Writing as background for their work, Vogt-Schilb et al. (2015) state that many studies have documented local declines in orchid species in response to environmental change, yet they note that "few data are available about the changes of orchid species' distributions at large spatial and temporal scales." In an attempt to remedy this data void, the team of four researchers thus set out "to characterize the recent dynamics of orchid distributions in Western Europe." More specifically, they analyzed 20 years (1985-2005) of survey data from the French Orchid Society covering 134 orchid taxa (126 species and 17 subspecies) in 108 administrative regions in France, Belgium and Luxembourg in order to understand the drivers of orchid distribution changes. It was the hypothesis of Vogt-Schilb et al. that they would find "an overall distribution range change [of orchids] toward the North of the study area in response to climate warming," citing the IPCC (2013), which has long contended the planet is currently undergoing dangerous global warming that is driving numerous plant and animal species toward extinction. So was their hypothesis correct?

In the words of the authors, "the primary driver of distribution changes for orchids, over the period considered and in our study area, is not the climate as was expected, but rather land-cover changes." Indeed, according to Vogt-Schilb et al., over the period of analysis there was a sharp decline among orchids in the more-urbanized Northern region of their study area (i.e. Northern France, Belgium and Luxembourg), whereas the less-urbanized Central and South Western region witnessed many new orchid appearances. And it was this southward range shift towards warmer and increasingly drought-stressed climates that led the authors to conclude that "land cover changes are a more important driver of orchid range dynamics than climate changes," the latter of which appears to have actually benefited orchids by increasing their diversity in the warmer and lower latitudes.

IPCC. 2013. In:Stocker, T.F., Qin, D., Plattner, G.-K., Tignor, M., Allen, S.K., Boschung, J., Nauels, A., Xia, Y., Bex, V., Midgley, P.M. (Eds.), Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Posted 15 March 2016