About this Research Topic
Refugia consist of vast regions (macrorefugia) or smaller, often insular, areas and habitats (microrefugia) that host unique combinations of environmental conditions which provide long-term environmental stability. This stability is particularly relevant during marked environmental fluctuations or disturbances, as refugia provide suitable conditions for species persistence, allowing them to potentially reoccupy surroundings habitats upon amelioration of environmental conditions.
Refugia i) are often found within regions of high endemicity; ii) further promote endemism with respect to the surrounding environment and iii) are considered safe havens for biodiversity. Because of all these reasons, refugia represent priority targets in conservation planning.
Understanding the unique ecological dynamics characterizing refugia deserves further attention, given their role in providing habitat in an otherwise unsuitable area, and effective conservation of refugia should be based on sound ecological and evolutionary insights about their formation and functioning. For example, refugia are often able to buffer against one major environmental pressure, such as increasing aridity for mesic-related biota, because they can provide a stable water supply during increasingly dry periods (hydrological refugia). However, not all refugia are capable of mitigating multiple, exacerbating, and potentially interacting environmental changes (e.g., increasing aridity combined with altered fire regimes). Additionally, regions or habitats that operated as refugia in the past – such as unglaciated areas (e.g., nunataks) for species preferring cold or mesic climates during the Last Glacial Maximum in the Northern Hemisphere – may not necessarily serve as refugia in the face of current and forecasted environmental shifts, such as increasing aridity. A more refined understanding and identification of refugia based on scenarios of variable future environmental conditions with a broader ecological and evolutionary approach is therefore urgent.
The study of functional traits and phylogenetic patterns of plants and animals in refugia may provide important insights to better understand the complexity of eco-evolutionary patterns in refugia. For example, directional adaptation towards specialized ecological strategies that cannot be detected using classical diversity metrics, could instead be disentangled by studying trait patterns and/or phylogenies – see e.g. phylogenetically conserved low seed dormancy in Brazilian mountaintop edaphic grasslands. Functional and phylogenetic approaches (especially when applied together), have the potential to: i) address the role of contemporary and evolutionary forces driving species and community dynamics; ii) identify high-capacity refugia as conservation priorities (serving as effective biodiversity reservoirs and likely able to buffer against different environmental variations), depending on current and future environmental conditions, and iii) predict impacts of environmental perturbations on biota that use refugia.
In this Research Topic, we welcome methodological, theoretical and applied frameworks (in the shape of original research, perspectives, opinion, forum manuscript-types) that apply functional and/or phylogenetic analyses to advance the eco-evolutionary understanding around the emergence, functioning, and dynamics of refugia. We encourage authors to explore approaches and methodologies which exploit both phylogenetic and functional information on ecological associations to describe refugia and infer their role in biodiversity conservation under present and future environmental conditions.
Keywords: Eco-evolutionary dynamics, biodiversity conservation, adaptive management, functional traits, phylogenetics, capacity of refugia, climate stability, environmental perturbations
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