Quantifying sensitivity and exposure to climate change in Western North American species
Rinnan, Darwin Scott
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Significant changes in climate over the coming century will affect different species in different ways. Understanding which species are most vulnerable to climate change is important for guiding conservation efforts and resource management decisions. We present a novel method for assessing vulnerability that quantifies both sensitivity --- the degree to which a given change in climate will affect a species --- and exposure --- how much climate change a species might experience in the near future. We applied our method to 400 species of plants, mammals, birds, and amphibians endemic to Western North America, and compared the results with three other methods that are currently used to assess different aspects of vulnerability. The results suggest certain species might be considerably more vulnerable than we currently recognize. Our method demonstrated robustness against inaccurate distribution data, and consistency across a broad range of spatial scales and different climate datasets. Our metrics also demonstrated the ability to identify vulnerable species while relying on minimal life history information, offering a method to determine which species to prioritize for future conservation actions when faced with a lack of data.