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The Tertiary relict tree Zelkova abelicea (Ulmaceae): distribution, population structure and conservation status on Crete

  • Gregor Kozlowski (a1), David Frey (a1), Laurence Fazan (a2), Bernhard Egli (a3), Sébastien Bétrisey (a1), Joachim Gratzfeld (a4), Giuseppe Garfì (a5) and Stergios Pirintsos (a6)...


Relict species provide a unique opportunity to understand past and recent biogeographical and evolutionary processes. Zelkova abelicea (Ulmaceae), which is endemic to the island of Crete (Greece), is one of the most prominent Tertiary relict trees of the Mediterranean region. We collected distribution, threat and population structure data by reviewing literature and herbaria and through field surveys at 14 study plots throughout the range of the species. The present distribution of Z. abelicea is extremely fragmented. Although the total estimated number of individuals is relatively high, the populations are dominated by dwarf, severely browsed, non-flowering individuals. The population structure is asymmetric. At most, 5% of a plot's trees are large and fruit-bearing. The asymmetric structure is particularly pronounced in isolated and small populations. Based on its limited geographical range, the fragmented spatial pattern, and data on distribution and population structure, our study confirms that Z. abelicea is a threatened species (IUCN category Endangered). Our research aim is to promote the development of new approaches for the improvement of conservation strategies for Tertiary relict trees characterized by major local disjunctions.


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