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Analysis of potential impacts of climate change on wildlife habitats in the U.S.




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Rocky Mountain Research Station


Final Report WHPRP 1.B. Washington, D.C.: National Council for Science and the Environment, Wildlife Habitat Policy Research Program. 69 p.


Resource managers face many challenges in developing management recommendations for wildlife habitat under a changing climate. Our research results offer states a more consistent and holistic approach to analyzing potential threats of climate change to terrestrial wildlife habitat. This process integrates a review of the scientific literature, the State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs), and analyses based on the state-of-the-art climate and ecological modeling, as well as current information on stressors to wildlife conservation. Our review of 50 State Wildlife Actions Plans (SWAPs) indicated that states varied in their description of climate change as a potential threat and in the degree to which management recommendations for habitat or species, specific to climate change, were developed, both across states and within state plans. The scientific literature available offered few on-the-ground management recommendations to address the potential impacts of climate change to wildlife habitat. We developed an approach to rank areas along a gradient of high to low future climate stress to terrestrial wildlife habitat. Our terrestrial climate stress index incorporated components of climate (i.e., changes in mean annual temperature and precipitation), climate-induced shifts in habitat area, and climate-induced changes in habitat quality as reflected in vegetation production. The areas of greatest stress from future climate change were associated with transitions between major biomes or in areas of high topographic relief. We calculated our climate stress index across 12 scenarios (3 global circulation models; 2 economic scenarios that affected greenhouse gas emissions; and 2 ecological assumptions that affected plant sensitivity to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide [CO2]). Observed variation in the climate stress index could be most ascribed to variability among the three global circulation models and less credited to the economic scenarios and ecological assumptions. We also observed that variation in the climate stress index was relatively low in high stress areas and relatively high in low stress areas. Such a pattern indicated that high stress areas were more consistently identified among the 12 scenarios than were low stress areas. In addition to identifying areas of future stress, we assessed patterns of current stressors, including barriers to dispersal associated with urban development and agriculture, and relative proportion of species considered to be at risk of extinction. Generally, the locations where current stressors were most pronounced did not overlap with the location of high future stress associated with climate change, potentially complicating the efforts of managers to prioritize wildlife conservation actions. We adapted our national terrestrial climate stress index to evaluate habitat-specific risk to climate change. This application sought to further inform planners and policy makers on potential priorities for management directed toward the amelioration of climate change threats. In addition to the climate shift and production components of the national index, we also included habitat-specific measures that quantified the change in total habitat area, the amount of overlap between the recent history and future footprints of the habitat type, migration resistance based on current level of intensive land use within the habitat type, and the prevalence of at-risk species that are associated with the habitat type. We illustrated the habitat-specific version of the terrestrial stress index in three case-study states: Arizona, Minnesota, and Tennessee. These case-study states sorted into two groups: those where habitat gains (novel habitats appear over time) and habitat losses (historical habitats disappear over time) were rare events (Arizona and Minnesota), and those where habitat compositional changes dominated (Tennessee). Habitat types that ranked h


Joyce, Linda A.; Flather, Curtis H.; Koopman, Marni. 2008. Analysis of potential impacts of climate change on wildlife habitats in the U.S. Final Report WHPRP 1.B. Washington, D.C.: National Council for Science and the Environment, Wildlife Habitat Policy Research Program. 69 p.

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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.