Conservation of critically endangered and economically important species Myristica malabarica in the central Western Ghats: using ecological niche models as a tool to identify areas for conservation. Funded by Department of Biotechnology (DBT) New Delhi.
Ecological niche models (ENM) are widely used to predict potential distribution in terms of their ecological niche over the geography by correlating background environmental information with known occurrences. The ENM tool is extensively used in locating rare and threatened species and in rationalizing the choice of habitats for species re-introduction. An implicit assumption of the ENMs is that the predicted ecological niche of a species does reflect the adaptive landscape of the species. Thus, in sites predicted to be highly suitable, populations of species would have maximum fitness compared to sites predicted to be unsuitable. In this project, the habitat suitability of Myristica malabarica Lam., an economically important tree occurring in the Western Ghats, India was predicted. The natural populations of the trees across the gradient of the predicted habitat suitability (from highly suitable to poorly suitable) were located and assessed for their regeneration ability and genetic diversity. Regeneration index and genetic diversity of populations were positively correlated with the predicted habitat quality. Populations at sites predicted to be highly suitable had a higher regeneration and gene diversity index compared to those in poor or unsuitable sites. These results for the first time provide an explicit test of the most basic assumption of the ENM.