Using niche models with climate projections to inform conservation management decisions

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Schwartz, Mark W.

Conservation science strives to inform management decisions. Applying niche models in concert with future climate projections to project species vulnerability to extinction, range size loss, or distribution shifts has emerged as a potentially useful tool for informing resource management decisions. Making climate change niche modeling useful to conservation decisions requires centering studies on the types of decisions that are made regarding the focal taxa of a niche model study. Recent recommendations for climate adaptation strategies suggest four types of decision makers: policy, habitat protection, habitat management, species management. Targeting research to questions relevant for management decisions will increase utility of a niche model study. Constraints to the accuracy and precision of niche models to project potential future distributions are well-recognized. How to incorporate these uncertainties into management decision-making remains a challenge. Refining estimates and making sound management recommendations is critical because species that are generally modeled to be the most vulnerable to climate change (i.e., narrow endemics), are also the most vulnerable to bad decisions based on uncertain models. I review uncertainties of niche models to assert that there is an inherent bias for models to over-estimate climate-driven vulnerability to extirpation. Explicit recognition of this bias leads to a decision framework that accommodates unbalanced uncertainty. Namely, niche models may be more useful for identifying conservation opportunities identifying newly available habitats under changing climate than they are for asserting where current habitat will no longer exist under future climate states.


Schwartz, M. W. 2012. Using niche models with climate projections to inform conservation management decisions. Biological Conservation 155:149–156.