Climate change will force species to shift from their current homes to more suitable habitat. Although protecting climate refugia will be an effective conservation plan for many species, there’s no benefit to the protection if individuals can’t get there in the first place. Where exactly will species need to move in order to stay connected to future suitable habitat, and how can we protect these valuable corridors now?
Researchers in a new study have used high-performance computing methods to map “climate corridors”, areas that form the best route between current climate types and where those climates will occur in the future under climate change. While previous studies have mapped climate connectivity areas over smaller regions, this is the first time that areas important for climate connectivity have been mapped over the entire North American continent.
The researchers found that routes were funneled along north-south trending passes and valley systems and along the leeward or drier slopes of north-south trending mountain ranges. Existing parks and protected areas with high importance for climate connectivity were found in southern Mexico, the southwestern US, and western and arctic Canada and Alaska. Areas within southern Mexico, the Great Plains, eastern temperate forests, high Arctic, and western Canadian Cordillera were also found to hold important climate connectivity areas that merit increased conservation focus due to pressures from human land use or due to current low levels of protection.
Climate connectivity areas, where many potential dispersal routes overlap, are distinct from refugia and thus poorly captured by many existing conservation strategies. Because organisms need to avoid hostile climates, these routes are often circuitous. Results from this study can help land managers create more effective responses to climate change by identifying landscape features which promote connectivity among refugia.
The study forms part of the Adaptwest Project, a high-resolution database that maps climate change related threats to biodiversity across North America. The database is already being used by conservation organizations such as the Wilderness Society and agencies such as the US National Park Service, to assess climate change vulnerability in different regions of the US and Canada.
Carroll C, Parks SA, Dobrowski SZ, and Roberts DR. 2018. Climatic, topographic, and anthropogenic factors determine connectivity between current and future climate analogs in North America. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14373.