The southeast United States is a critical place to study the effects of climate change on biodiversity because it contains the highest richness of plants and amphibians in the contiguous U.S. and has high levels of habitat fragmentation, limiting the abilities of these diverse fauna to track their habitats. We characterize the species distributions and species richness across the regions in current conditions and in the future under different climate scenarios. We develop a methodological framework that starts with raw occurrence data from GBIF, uses careful subsampling approaches, Maxent distribution modeling based on climate covariates, and combines this with several ensembles of climate projections from the present to 2080. Within this framework, we extrapolate a consensus model given the suite of projected distributions.
Our study examines ~300 vertebrate species that live in the southeastern U.S. including birds with limited dispersal abilities, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. We limit the species examined to those species with sufficient observational data to represent the range of environments in which they live. We identify the biodiversity hotspots today and in the future, investigate the current and future representation of species in protected areas in the Southeast, and identify potential areas of high conservation priority with respect to future range shifts due to climate change. We identify which species will be most at risk of extinction, which will require movement connectivity to track their niches, and which will interact with urbanized areas.