Integrating demography and distribution modeling for the iconic Leontopodium alpinum Colm. in the Romanian Carpathians
Abstract: Both climate change and human exploitation are major threats to plant life in mountain environments. One species that may be particularly sensitive to both of these stressors is the iconic alpine flower edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum Colm.). Its populations have declined across Europe due to over‐collection for its highly prized flowers. Edelweiss is still subject to harvesting across the Romanian Carpathians, but no study has measured to what extent populations are vulnerable to anthropogenic change. Here, we estimated the effects of climate and human disturbance on the fitness of edelweiss. We combined demographic measurements with predictions of future range distribution under climate change to assess the viability of populations across Romania. We found that per capita and per‐area seed number and seed mass were similarly promoted by both favorable environmental conditions, represented by rugged landscapes with relatively cold winters and wet summers, and reduced exposure to harvesting, represented by the distance of plants from hiking trails. Modeling these responses under future climate scenarios suggested a slight increase in per‐area fitness. However, we found plant ranges contracted by between 14% and 35% by 2050, with plants pushed into high elevation sites. Synthesis. Both total seed number and seed mass are expected to decline across Romania despite individual edelweiss fitness benefiting from a warmer and wetter climate. More generally, our approach of coupling species distribution models with demographic measurements may better inform conservation strategies of ways to protect alpine life in a changing world.