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Quantifying Relative Extinction Risks and Targeting Intervention for the Orchid Flora of a Natural Park in the European Prealps

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Conservation currently relies largely on hindsight because demographic studies identify population decline after the event. Nevertheless, the degree of aggregation within a population is an “instantaneous” characteristic with the potential to identify populations presently at greatest risk of genetic impoverishment (via Allee effects and in-breeding depression) and local decline. We sought to determine the relative extinction risk for sympatric orchid species throughout Monte Barro natural park (Lecco, Italy), based on an index of dispersion (I) calculated from the size and location of subpopulations (recorded with GPS and mapped with GIS). Three population dispersion types were identified: (1) highly aggregated and locally abundant (large subpopulations restricted to particular sites; e.g., Gymnadenia conopsea [L.] R.Br.; I= 54.5); (2) widespread and moderately aggregated (opportunistic throughout the elevational range of the mountain; e.g., Listera ovata[L.] R.Br.; I = 18.9); and (3) weakly aggregated and locally rare (small, highly diffuse subpopulations; e.g., endemic Ophrys benacensis [Reisigl] O. & E. Danesch & Ehrend.; I = 4.4). Type 1 populations are more likely to respond to in situ intervention, whereas type 2 are relatively invasive species for which conservation intervention is not necessary, and type 3 are rare species that are least likely to respond to habitat management, for which ex situ conservation and population reinforcement would be most appropriate. Although our methodology provides only a “snapshot” of aboveground patterns of population dispersion, it can help target the application of in situ and ex situ conservation activities proactively and is of particular utility for parks for which a rapid assessment of local extinction risks is needed.
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Keywords: Mesobromion; Monte Barro; Ophrys; Orchidaceae; Orchis; fragmentación de hábitat; habitat fragmentation; index of dispersion; índice de dispersión

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centro Flora Autoctona, c/o Consorzio Parco Monte Barro, Villa Bertarelli, I-23851 Galbiate (LC), Italy 2: Dipartimento di Biologia Strutturale e Funzionale, Università degli Studi dell'Insubria, Via J.H. Dunant 3, I-21100 Varese, Italy

Publication date: 2006-12-01

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