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Climatic controls of a keystone understory species, Sasamorpha borealis, and an impact assessment of climate change in Japan



The aims of this study were to identify the climatic conditions controlling the distribution of Sasamorpha borealis and to assess the impact of climate change on the species in Japan.

Materials and methods

The relationship between S. borealis distribution and climatic variables in the Japanese Archipelago was explored using classification tree analysis. Potential habitat maps under the current and future climates were generated at about 1-km spatial resolution.


The model was highly accurate. Although snow cover has been thought to be the most important factor controlling S. borealis distribution, we revealed that the species requires high precipitation during the growing season even in humid Japanese environments. Areas with high summer (May–September) precipitation (PRS) were classified as potential habitat irrespective of other climatic conditions. In areas with moderate PRS, potential habitat was limited to cooler and less snow-covered areas and areas with low PRS were classified as non-habitat. The high fitness of the predicted to the observed distributions suggested that S. borealis could have survived throughout the Japanese Archipelago during the glacial period.


In future climates, 29.0–39.1% of the current potential habitat was predicted to change to non-habitat due to increasing dryness in the growing season. Areas with high precipitation remained a potential habitat for S. borealis.

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We thank Dr. Erin Conlisk for her useful comments and language help on this manuscript. We also thank the anonymous reviewer and the associate editor Gilbert Aussenac for their valuable comments. This study was funded by a program of the Global Environmental Research of Japan (S-4 and S-8), the Ministry of the Environment.

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Correspondence to Ikutaro Tsuyama.

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Handling Editor: Gilbert Aussenac

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Fig. S1

The study area, including names of important regions of Japan (PDF 257 kb)

Fig. S2

Distributions of S. borealis based on the SDD generated from Suzuki (1978). Black boxes indicate the presence of S. borealis. The spatial resolution is about 10 km (PDF 112 kb)

Fig. S3

Spatial distributions of the five climatic variables under a the current climate, b the RCM20 scenario (2081–2100), and c the MIROC scenario (2081–2100). WI warmth index (Kira 1991), TMC temperature of the coldest month, PRS summer (May–September) precipitation, MSW maximum snow water equivalent, WR winter (November–April) rainfall (PDF 212 kb)

Fig. S4

Changes in habitat types under the two climatic change scenarios; i.e., a the RCM20 scenario and b the MIROC scenario. “Suitable” in the legend refers to suitable habitat, “Marginal” indicates marginal habitat, and “Non” means non-habitat (PDF 227 kb)

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Tsuyama, I., Nakao, K., Matsui, T. et al. Climatic controls of a keystone understory species, Sasamorpha borealis, and an impact assessment of climate change in Japan. Annals of Forest Science 68, 689–699 (2011).

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  • Dwarf bamboo
  • Species distribution model
  • Snow cover
  • Summer precipitation
  • Empty habitat