Implications of environmental change on the distribution of imperilled species

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.

Species on the Move

An International Conference Series

The conference brings together scientists and natural resource managers working in the disciplines of global change, biogeography and evolution, and relevant in contexts of natural resource management, biodiversity management and conservation, and theoretical ecology.

Species responses to climate change is a rapidly evolving research field, however, much of our progress is being made in independent research areas: e.g. understanding the process vs responding to the implications, terrestrial vs marine ecosystems, global meta-analyses vs in depth species-specific approaches. This interdisciplinary conference develops connections between these parallel streams, and across temporal and spatial scales.

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