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Identifying priority areas for reducing species vulnerability to climate change


Correspondence: Neville D. Crossman, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, PMB2, Urrbrae, SA 5064, Australia.


Aim  The dimensions of species vulnerability to climate change are complex, and this impedes efforts to provide clear advice for conservation planning. In this study, we used a formal framework to assess species vulnerability to climate change quantifying exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity and then used this information to target areas for reducing vulnerability at a regional scale.

Location  The 6500-km2 Mount Lofty Ranges region in South Australia.

Methods  We quantified the vulnerability of 171 plant species in a fragmented yet biologically important agro-ecological landscape, typical of many temperate zones globally. We specified exposure, using three climate change scenarios; sensitivity, as the adverse impact of climate change on species’ spatial distribution; and adaptive capacity, as the ability of species to migrate calculated using dispersal kernels. Priority areas for reducing vulnerability were then identified by incorporating these various components into a single priority index.

Results  Climate change had a variable impact on species distributions. Those species whose range decreased or shifted geographically were attributed higher sensitivity than those species that increased geographic range or remained unchanged. The ability to adapt to range changes in response to shifting climates varies both spatially and between species. Areas of highest priority for reducing vulnerability were found at higher altitudes and lower latitudes with increasing severity of climate change.

Main conclusions  Our study demonstrates the use of a single spatially explicit index that identifies areas in the landscape for targeting specific conservation and restoration actions to reduce species vulnerability to climate change. Our index can be transferred to other regions around the world in which climate change poses an increasing threat to native species.