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Monthly Check-In

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - 11:00am to 12:00pm

Current trends in climate exposure in the western U.S.: Applications to habitat vulnerability assessments; presented by Healy Hamilton, NatureServe

Effective adaptation planning for ecosystems requires an understanding of the rate, magnitude, and spatial distribution of climate change, as well as how and where ecosystems may be resistant or resilient to those changes. Most vulnerability assessments focus on forecasting future conditions of climate exposure using downscaled global circulation models and relatively simplistic exposure metrics, such as projected changes in average annual temperature. These approaches necessarily contain high levels of uncertainty, and may oversimplify relationships between climate change and how species and ecosystems experience and respond to such changes. Here, we provide three developments in climate change vulnerability assessment. First, instead of future forecasts, we focus on assessing observed climate exposure from interpolated weather station records. We compare and contrast four alternative spatial climate datasets applicable to climate trend analysis in the western U.S. Second, we have generated novel metrics of current climate exposure that attempt to provide more ecologically meaningful exposure metrics more reflective of the relationship between climate and biodiversity. Third, we have modified a widely used species-based method of vulnerability assessment for application to habitats. Here, the units of analysis are the major ecological system types for vegetation of the western U.S., such as Intermountain Basins Big Sagebrush Shrubland. The Habitat Climate Change Vulnerability Index (HCCVI) offers a transparent and repeatable methodology for assessing climate change exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity for habitats. The method provides spatially explicit results, and therefore can inform appropriate management actions for generating resistance and resilience of ecological systems in the face of rapid and directional climate change.

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