Dr Christine Howard1, Dr Curtis Flather2, Dr Philip Stephens1
1Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom, 2USDA Forest Service, Fort Collins, United States
In this era of rapid environmental change, identifying where biodiversity is at greatest risk and the processes influencing that risk, are key challenges for conservation biology. Concentrations of threatened species may occur where threatening processes are intense, or in areas where species are predisposed to the effects of these processes. There have been few attempts to identify the processes that explain the current distribution of at-risk species or to predict where concentrations of imperilment may occur in future. Here, we assess the relative importance of predisposing ecological traits and extrinsic anthropogenic stressors in driving the spatial patterns of both total and at-risk species richness of North American vertebrates. We show that environmental factors, rather than anthropogenic stressors, are the predominant drivers of both total and at-risk species richness. Strikingly, the directions of variable relationships differ considerably between models of total and at-risk species richness. Next, we use our models of at-risk species richness to predict where concentrations of imperilled species may occur under future scenarios of environmental change and anthropogenic stressors. We identify both where new hotspots of imperilment may arise, and the current concentrations of threatened species that may be lost in future. Importantly, we demonstrate substantial differences in shifts of at-risk species richness between taxonomic groups, which may pose a quandary for conservation planners. Our study identifies those areas which should be prioritised for monitoring the effects of environmental change and provides insights into which conservation actions might be successful in different areas.
I graduated in Ecology and Conservation from the University of St Andrews, which I followed with an MRes in Environmental Biology based primarily at the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling. For my PhD, based at Durham University, I collaborated with the British Trust for Ornithology to investigate the relative importance of climate and land use change in determining the recent population trends of breeding birds across Europe. Currently, I am working on a project with the USDA Forest Service, to identify the environmental and anthropogenic correlates of species rarity, in order to develop recommendations for conservation policy.