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Assessing Threats and Conservation Status of Historical Centers of Oak Richness in California

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Oak trees are emblematic of California landscapes, they serve as keystone cultural and ecological species and as indicators of natural biological diversity. As historically undeveloped landscapes are increasingly converted to urban environments, endemic oak woodland extent is reduced, which underscores the importance of strategic placement and reintroduction of oaks and woodland landscape for the maintenance of biodiversity and reduction of habitat fragmentation. This paper investigated the effects of human urban development on oak species in California by first modeling historical patterns of richness for eight oak tree species using historical map and plot data from the California Vegetation Type Mapping (VTM) collection. We then examined spatial intersections between hot spots of historical oak richness and modern urban and conservation lands and found that impacts from development and conservation vary by both species and richness. Our findings suggest that the impact of urban development on oaks has been small within the areas of highest oak richness but that areas of highest oak richness are also poorly conserved. Third, we argue that current policy measures are inadequate to conserve oak woodlands and suggest regions to prioritize acquisition of conservation lands as well as examine urban regions where previous centers of oak richness were lost as potential frontiers for oak reintroduction. We argue that urban planning could benefit from the adoption of historical data and modern species distribution modelling techniques primarily used in natural resources and conservation fields to better locate hot spots of species richness, understand where habitats and species have been lost historically and use this evidence as incentive to recover what was lost and preserve what still exists. This adoption of historical data and modern techniques would then serve as a paradigm shift in the way Urban Planners recognize, quantify, and use landscape history in modern built environments.

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