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Integrating Climate Change and Land Use Impacts to Explore Forest Conservation Policy

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This study uses a scenario-based approach to ask what are the varying impacts to forest extent and biodiversity from sixteen climate change and forest conversion scenario combinations, and what do they suggest about future forest conservation policy directions? We projected these combinations onto existing forests in South Korea and grouped them into four forest categories. We used species distribution models for 1031 climate vulnerable plant species as a biodiversity index, and found that species richness loss due to forest conversion could be reduced significantly by deploying the scenarios which preserve forest areas that are climatically suitable for these species. Climate-suitable forest areas declined sharply and moved northward as future temperatures increase, and climate-suitable areas lost the highest proportion of forest extent under the current trend of forest conversion. We suggest climate refugia, defined as existing forests with suitable future climates, be protected from land use conversion as a way to preserve forest biodiversity. These spatially explicit results can be used for developing forest conservation policies, and the methods may be applicable to other forested regions. However, planners should consider the assumptions and uncertainties of climate projections, species distribution models, and land use trends when addressing forest biodiversity conservation.

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