PS 85-149
How far can they go?: A climate corridor model of the United States identifies regional potential for tracking climate change

Friday, August 9, 2013
Exhibit Hall B, Minneapolis Convention Center
Jenny L. McGuire, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Brad H. McRae, North America Region, The Nature Conservancy, Fort Collins, CO
Darren Kavanagh, Adze Informatics, Seattle, WA
David M. Theobald, Conservation Science Partners, Inc., Truckee, CA
Tristan Nuñez, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management, University of California- Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Joshua J. Lawler, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

As climate changes, populations must navigate a complicated, human-altered landscape to track their preferred climate. As a result, their paths may frequently be cut off by roads and cities or by intervening inhospitable climates, leading to dead ends and potentially, extirpations. To conserve future biodiversity, we will likely need to facilitate efficient climate tracking. We use a new approach for identifying corridors for facilitating climate-driven movements to create a climate-corridor map for the United States. We identify a vast network of corridors that connect warmer to cooler patches of natural land cover by following shallow temperature gradients while avoiding areas of high human impact. We then assess how far an organism living in a given patch could move through the network to track climate gradients. We evaluate the relative importance of climate gradients versus human impact for identifying connectivity in different regions of the US.


Climate corridors offer several improvements over traditionally implemented corridors, which designate corridors solely based on avoiding regions of high human impact. They allow us to identify the most likely paths for organisms as they follow subtle climate gradients and help us to designate the relative connectedness of natural landscape patches under climate-change scenarios. We identify several regions where natural landscape patches are isolated. When compared with expected rates of climate change, we determine that organisms in these areas could face difficulties tracking climate. Climate-corridor mapping is more valuable in mountainous regions, where it alters corridor paths relative to corridors designated solely based on the avoidance of areas of high human-impact. However, overall this study demonstrates that the consideration of climate in corridor mapping is incredibly important for identifying isolated regions, which will require alternative conservation approaches to facilitate climate-driven shifts in species distributions.