Salicaceae is a family of temperate woody plants in the Northern Hemisphere that are highly valued, both ecologically and economically. China contains the highest species diversity of these plants. Despite their widespread human use, how the species diversity patterns of Salicaceae plants formed remains mostly unknown, and these may be significantly affected by global climate warming. Using past, present, and future environmental data and 2673 georeferenced specimen records, we first simulated the dynamic changes in suitable habitats and population structures of Salicaceae. Based on this, we next identified those areas at high risk of habitat loss and population declines under different climate change scenarios/years. We also mapped the patterns of species diversity by constructing niche models for 215 Salicaceae species, and assessed the driving factors affecting their current diversity patterns. The niche models showed Salicaceae family underwent extensive population expansion during the Last Inter Glacial period but retreated to lower latitudes during and since the period of the Last Glacial Maximum. Looking ahead, as climate warming intensifies, suitable habitats will shift to higher latitudes and those at lower latitudes will become less abundant. Finally, the western regions of China harbor the greatest endemism and species diversity of Salicaceae, which are significantly influenced by annual precipitation and mean temperature, ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation, and the anomaly of precipitation seasonality. From these results, we infer water–energy dynamic equilibrium and historical climate change are both the main factors likely regulating contemporary species diversity and distribution patterns. Nevertheless, this work also suggests that other, possibly interacting, factors (ambient energy, disturbance history, soil condition) influence the large-scale pattern of Salicaceae species diversity in China, making a simple explanation for it unlikely. Because Southwest China likely served as a refuge for Salicaceae species during the Last Glacial Maximum, it is a current hotspot for endemisms. Under predicted climate change, Salicaceae plants may well face higher risks to their persistence in southwest China, so efforts to support their in-situ conservation there are urgently needed.
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