Beyond the direct influence of climate change on species distribution and phenology, indirect effects may also arise from perturbations in species interactions. Infectious diseases are strong biotic forces that can precipitate population declines and lead to biodiversity loss. It has been shown in forest ecosystems worldwide that at least 10% of trees are vulnerable to extinction and pathogens are increasingly implicated. In Europe, the emerging ash dieback disease caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, commonly called Chalara fraxinea, is causing a severe mortality of common ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior); this is raising concerns for the persistence of this widespread tree, which is both a key component of forest ecosystems and economically important for timber production. Here, we show how the pathogen and climate change may interact to affect the future spatial distribution of the common ash. Using two presence-only models, seven General Circulation Models and four emission scenarios, we show that climate change, by affecting the host and the pathogen separately, may uncouple their spatial distribution to create a mismatch in species interaction and so a lowering of disease transmission. Consequently, as climate change expands the ranges of both species polewards it may alleviate the ash dieback crisis in southern and occidental regions at the same time.
Published on October 14, 2016 by SCIENTIFIC REPORTS