Aim Climate is an important determinant of species distributions. We assess different aspects of risk arising from future climate change by quantifying changes in the spatial distribution of future climatic conditions compared with the recent past.
Methods A 10′ × 10′ resolution gridded data set of five climate variables was used to calculate expected changes to the area, distance and direction of 1931–60 climatic conditions under the HadCM3 climate model for four future climate scenarios based on different rates of greenhouse gas emissions (SRES scenarios). Three levels of tolerance ranges determined the thresholds for which future conditions are considered analogous to 1931–60 (pre-warming) conditions.
Results For many parts of Europe, areas with pre-warming analogous climate conditions will be smaller and further away in the future than they are now. For any location in Europe, areas with pre-warming analogous mean annual temperature conditions will, on average, be reduced between 23.7% (B1 scenario) and 49.7% (A1FI scenario) by 2100 when assuming a medium tolerance range. The mean distance to these areas will, on average, increase between 272 km (B1) and 645 km (A1FI). These changes are more pronounced for temperature than for water availability variables and also for narrow tolerance ranges compared to wide tolerance ranges. Using a combined measure of both temperature and precipitation variables, areas with prewarming analogous conditions are predicted to be in a more northeasterly direction in the future, but there are considerable regional differences within Europe.
Main conclusions The results suggest that, for some parts of Europe, the loss of area with any suitable climatic conditions represents the greatest risk to biodiversity, but in other regions the distances that species may have to move to reach suitable climatic conditions may be a greater problem. Quantifying the distance and direction in analyses of change of climatically suitable areas can add additional information for climate change risk assessments.