'Tales of Symphonia': extinction dynamics in response to past climate change in Madagascan rainforests.
Virah-Sawmy M., Bonsall MB., Willis KJ.
Madagascar's rainforests are among the most biodiverse in the world. Understanding the population dynamics of important species within these forests in response to past climatic variability provides valuable insight into current and future species composition. Here, we use a population-level approach to analyse palaeoecological records over the last 5300 years to understand how populations of Symphonia cf. verrucosa became locally extinct in some rainforest fragments along the southeast coast of Madagascar in response to rapid climate change, yet persisted in others. Our results indicate that regional (climate) variability contributed to synchronous decline of S. cf. verrucosa populations in these forests. Superimposed on regional fluctuations were local processes that could have contributed or mitigated extinction. Specifically, in the forest with low soil nutrients, population model predictions indicated that there was coexistence between S. cf. verrucosa and Erica spp., but in the nutrient-rich forest, interspecific effects between Symphonia and Erica spp. may have pushed Symphonia to extinction at the peak of climatic change. We also demonstrate that Symphonia is a good indicator of a threshold event, exhibiting erratic fluctuations prior to and long after the critical climatic point has passed.