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Vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change moderated by habitat intactness

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Abstract

The combined effects of climate change and habitat loss represent a major threat to species and ecosystems around the world. Here, we analyse the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change based on current levels of habitat intactness and vulnerability to biome shifts, using multiple measures of habitat intactness at two spatial scales. We show that the global extent of refugia depends highly on the definition of habitat intactness and spatial scale of the analysis of intactness. Globally, 28% of terrestrial vegetated area can be considered refugia if all natural vegetated land cover is considered. This, however, drops to 17% if only areas that are at least 50% wilderness at a scale of 48 × 48 km are considered and to 10% if only areas that are at least 50% wilderness at a scale of 4.8 × 4.8 km are considered. Our results suggest that, in regions where relatively large, intact wilderness areas remain (e.g. Africa, Australia, boreal regions, South America), conservation of the remaining large-scale refugia is the priority. In human-dominated landscapes, (e.g. most of Europe, much of North America and Southeast Asia), focusing on finer scale refugia is a priority because large-scale wilderness refugia simply no longer exist. Action to conserve such refugia is particularly urgent since only 1 to 2% of global terrestrial vegetated area is classified as refugia and at least 50% covered by the global protected area network.

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