canary islands

Climate change threatens the endemic flora of the peaks of Tenerife and La Palma

In Tenerife, the proportion of species at high and very high risk in the future (33% in the near future and 50% in the 2061-2080 scenario) is double that of La Palma.

The endemic plant species on the peaks of Tenerife and La Palma are threatened with extinction by climate change, with a greater impact on the botanical species of the former island, according to a report released by the University of La Laguna.

This is the conclusion of the research group “Plant Conservation and Biogeography” of the University of La Laguna”, which has completed the project “Generating the necessary knowledge to halt the loss of biodiversity of Canary ecosystems in the current context of climate change”, funded by the Canary Islands Agency for Research, Innovation and the Information Society.

This project has made it possible to analyse the vulnerability of the endemic flora of 60 species on the peaks of Tenerife and La Palma in three climate scenarios: Present (1990-2019), short-term future (2041-2060) and long-term future (2061-2080), the Education Centre said in a press release.

Although this project did not include all of the endemic flora of the ecosystems studied, such as the pine forest and broom, the results to date show significant differences in the vulnerability of the flora on the peaks of these islands to future scenarios.

In Tenerife, the proportion of species at high and very high risk in the future (33% in the near future and 50% in the 2061-2080 scenario) is twice as high as in La Palma (10% for the near future and 17% for the 2061-2080 scenario).

On La Palma, 52% of the species analysed have at least one factor that limits their ability to respond to climate change, while on Tenerife this value increases to 67%.

This indicates that despite the advantage that this ecosystem has in Tenerife due to its larger area, the current state of the populations may determine a greater risk of biodiversity loss due to climate change.

The project provides recommendations for the management of each of the species studied, emphasises the need for active management to adapt to climate change, and places special emphasis on the control and eradication of invasive herbivores in the ecosystems studied.

The work was led by Full Professor of Botany Juana María González Mancebo, along with Professor of Botany Marcelino del Arco Aguilar and Professors Víctor Bello Rodríguez and Jonay Cubas Díaz, all from the University of La Laguna group.

Researchers such as Andreas Hamann from the University of Alberta (Canada) and the public administrations involved, such as the Teide and Caldera de Taburiente National Parks, have also collaborated.

Thanks to this project and a previous project granted to this research team by the Fundación Biodiversidad-Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica y el Reto demográfico, it has been possible for the first time to develop a precise methodology that takes into account the problems characteristic of the oceanic islands, such as the small size of their ecosystems and the stress maintained over time by invasive herbivores such as rabbits, goats, sheep, mouflons and Barbary sheep.

This is the first time in the Canary Islands that the vulnerability of Canary Island flora has been studied from three different points of view: the loss of potential area of species as a result of changes in temperature and precipitation; the imbalance that occurs in the development area of species and in current colonisation areas when temperature increases; and finally, the possibilities of species to adapt to climate change.

This last aspect takes into account not only the size of the habitat in which each species lives and the problem of invasive herbivores, but also other aspects such as the effects of drought or the regenerative and migratory capacity of the species.

This line of research will continue under a cooperation agreement with the Government of the Canary Islands to analyse the vulnerability of the plant communities of the Canary Islands to the risks caused by climate change, studying all the Canary Islands and their endemic flora in their entirety.

This work, to be completed in 2026, will lay the foundations for an integrated management of the ecosystems of all the Canary Islands, which will increase the adaptive capacity of their species to the effects of global warming, adds the Education Centre.

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