Is U.S. climatic diversity well represented within the existing federal protection network?


  • Corresponding Editor: D. S. Schimel.


Establishing protection networks to ensure that biodiversity and associated ecosystem services persist under changing environments is a major challenge for conservation planning. The potential consequences of altered climates for the structure and function of ecosystems necessitates new and complementary approaches be incorporated into traditional conservation plans. The conterminous United States of America (CONUS) has an extensive system of protected areas managed by federal agencies, but a comprehensive assessment of how this network represents CONUS climate is lacking. We present a quantitative classification of the climate space that is independent from the geographic locations to evaluate the climatic representation of the existing protected area network. We use this classification to evaluate the coverage of each agency's jurisdiction and to identify current conservation deficits. Our findings reveal that the existing network poorly represents CONUS climatic diversity. Although rare climates are generally well represented by the network, the most common climates are particularly underrepresented. Overall, 83% of the area of the CONUS corresponds to climates underrepresented by the network. The addition of some currently unprotected federal lands to the network would enhance the coverage of CONUS climates. However, to fully palliate current conservation deficits, large-scale private-land conservation initiatives will be critical.