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Human land uses reduce climate connectivity

Date: July 24, 2020

Human land uses may make it harder for species to move in response to climate change.

Climate connectivity - the ability of a landscape to promote or hinder species movement when responding to a changing climate - depends on multiple factors, including the distance organisms need to move to respond to climate change and the resistance they experience along their routes. Maintaining and enhancing climate connectivity maximizes the likelihood that organisms can adequately shift their geographic ranges in response to climate change and reduces the likelihood of extinctions.

The degree of climate connectivity in a landscape can be summed up by several types of measurements. For example, climate velocity estimates how fast organisms must travel in order to maintain similar climate conditions in future time periods (Fig. 1). Climate exposure is a measure of the degree of dissimilarity in climate that individuals will encounter as they move in response to climate change.

A three-panel map of North America showing climate velocity/delta/ratio from low to high.
Figure 1: Climate velocity for North America when not incorporating human land uses (a). The difference (km/year) in climate velocity when incorporating human land uses (b). The ratio of climate velocity when incorporating human land uses to that when not (c).

One important factor influencing measures of climate connectivity is human land use, which is often not incorporated into climate vulnerability assessments. There are two ways in which human land uses may influence climate connectivity. First, as organisms shift in response to climate change, they may avoid areas with intense land uses. Second, climatically ideal destinations may not be viable due to incompatible human land uses.

This study quantified how human land uses altered potential movement routes when considering a reference period (1981–2010) and late‐century (2071–2100) climate across North America. In doing so, climate corridor maps were produced to increase the ability of managers to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change on North America’s biodiversity resources (Fig. 2).

A map of the western United States with climate corridor importance shown in blue (low) to red (very high).
Figure 2: Map depicts climate corridors – potential movement routes between current climate types and where those climates will occur in the future – for the western United States.

Key Findings

  • Climate connectivity decreased across North America when considering human land uses.
  • A vast majority (~96%) of movement routes in North America must contend with human land uses to some degree.
  • Conservation planners should incorporate human land uses when thinking about species shifts in response to climate change.
  • Climate corridors, which represent the best pathways for successful range shifts, should be protected to facilitate movement of organisms.
  • Previous evaluations of climate connectivity underestimate climate change exposure because they do not account for human impacts.

Related Media

Human land use reduces climate connectivity, from Conservation Corridor

Featured Publications

Parks, Sean A. ; Carroll, Carlos ; Dobrowski, Solomon Z. ; Allred, Brady W. , 2020
Batllori, Enric ; Parisien, Marc-Andre ; Parks, Sean A. ; Moritz, Max A. ; Miller, Carol L. , 2017

Principal Investigators: 
External Partners: 
Carlos Carroll, Klamath Center for Conservation
Solomon Dobrowski, University of Montana
Brady Allred, University of Montana