Identifying species highly vulnerable to climate change impacts

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources led an effort among scientists and natural resource managers to identify priority terrestrial wildlife species that may be especially vulnerable to impacts of climate change. Species identified from the research include Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, white-tailed deer, Blanding’s turtle, ruffed grouse and snowshoe hare. Researchers are now forging ahead with quantitative vulnerability assessments for a subset of these identified species to determine how climate change may impact future distribution and abundance.

Eastern massassauga rattlesnake. Ohio Biodiversity Conservation Partnership.

Eastern massassauga rattlesnake. Ohio Biodiversity Conservation Partnership.

Ruffed grouse. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ruffed grouse. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Researchers conducted workshops with more than 200 participants representing 62 agencies and organizations across the region. As a result of these workshops, 30 terrestrial species were identified and considered to be priorities for climate impact assessment. Now, researchers are completing a quantitative vulnerability assessment on two partner-identified priority species, eastern massasauga rattlesnake and ruffed grouse. This project will identify potential changes in the distribution and abundance of these priority species.

“Resources for wildlife conservation and management are limited, so this information could help inform the allocation of resources and effort for the conservation and management of the species across their range,” said project investigator Olivia LeDee.

Climate change is a key threat identified by LCCs, Joint Ventures, National Bird Conservation Initiative, and other leading conservation partnerships, and state natural resources agencies are beginning to incorporate climate change impacts into State Wildlife Action Plans.

Researchers are currently developing simulation models and sensitivity analyses for Eastern massassauga and ruffed grouse under multiple future climate change scenarios. Using relationships based on past demographic and climatic changes, researchers are simulating future demographic and distributional projections over the next 50 and 100 years. These models will be used to produce geographic maps identifying areas of strong future population survival; representing refugia for existing populations and priorities for management. The approach can ultimately simulate the likely population trajectories under future scenarios of climate change and further understand which aspects of a shifting climate (e.g., drought, flooding, temperature increases) might be more influential.

LeDee explains,“The results are spatially-explicit, informing on the ground management opportunities, and we will identify the most influential parameters, determining where management efforts may be most beneficial.”

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Upper Midwest and Great Lakes LCC

The Upper Midwest and Great Lakes LCC envisions a conservation community that while governed by their unique purposes and missions, collaborates on sustaining lands and waters that support natural and cultural resources and the services they provide. Our mission is to support and sustain this conservation community by facilitating communication, coordination and collaboration to bridge cutting-edge scientific research with natural resources management.

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