Estimating climate resilience for conservation across geophysical settings

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Anderson, Mark G., Clark, Melissa, Sheldon, Arlene Olivero

Conservationists need methods to conserve biological diversity while allowing species and communities to rearrange in response to a changing climate. We developed and tested such a method for northeastern North America that we based on physical features associated with ecological diversity and site resilience to climate change. We comprehensively mapped 30 distinct geophysical settings based on geology and elevation. Within each geophysical setting, we identified sites that were both connected by natural cover and that had relatively more microclimates indicated by diverse topography and elevation gradients. We did this by scoring every 405 ha hexagon in the region for these two characteristics and selecting those that scored >SD 0.5 above the mean combined score for each setting. We hypothesized that these high-scoring sites had the greatest resilience to climate change, and we compared them with sites selected by The Nature Conservancy for their high-quality rare species populations and natural community occurrences. High-scoring sites captured significantly more of the biodiversity sites than expected by chance (p < 0.0001): 75% of the 414 target species, 49% of the 4592 target species locations, and 53% of the 2170 target community locations. Calcareous bedrock, coarse sand, and fine silt settings scored markedly lower for estimated resilience and had low levels of permanent land protection (average 7%). Because our method identifies—for every geophysical setting—sites that are the most likely to retain species and functions longer under a changing climate, it reveals natural strongholds for future conservation that would also capture substantial existing biodiversity and correct the bias in current secured lands.


Anderson, M. G., M. Clark, and A. O. Sheldon. 2014. Estimating climate resilience for conservation across geophysical settings. Conservation Biology. doi:10.1111/cobi.12272