Human activities and species biological traits drive the long-term persistence of old trees in human-dominated landscapes

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Old trees have many ecological and socio-cultural values. However, knowledge of the factors influencing their long-term persistence in human-dominated landscapes is limited. Here, using an extensive database (nearly 1.8 million individual old trees belonging to 1,580 species) from China, we identified which species were most likely to persist as old trees in human-dominated landscapes and where they were most likely to occur. We found that species with greater potential height, smaller leaf size and diverse human utilization attributes had the highest probability of long-term persistence. The persistence probabilities of human-associated species (taxa with diverse human utilization attributes) were relatively high in intensively cultivated areas. Conversely, the persistence probabilities of spontaneous species (taxa with no human utilization attributes and which are not cultivated) were relatively high in mountainous areas or regions inhabited by ethnic minorities. The distinctly different geographic patterns of persistence probabilities of the two groups of species were related to their dissimilar responses to heterogeneous human activities and site conditions. A small number of human-associated species dominated the current cohort of old trees, while most spontaneous species were rare and endemic. Our study revealed the potential impacts of human activities on the long-term persistence of trees and the associated shifts in species composition in human-dominated landscapes.

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Nature Plants


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