Tallgrass prairie ecosystems in North America are heavily degraded and require restoration. One common management tool is the application of a seed-mix of native prairie species. While this technique is valuable, seeds of some species are difficult or expensive to obtain so compromises must be made based on these limited resources. It is therefore critical that included species be robust to the effects of climate change such that restoration efforts succeed in the long term. By utilizing species distribution models (SDMs), landscape suitability for prairie species in seed mixes can be quantified and predicted under various predicted climate regimes, and seed mixes may be designed with an explicit focus on restoring climate change-resilient species. We selected 14 prairie species for modeling under four different future climate projections spanning a range of increased temperature and precipitation. These species represent the functional groups of C3 and C4 grasses, as well as forbs and legumes.
For most of the species, regardless of the specific climate scenario being modeled, the northern Great Plains and southern Canada showed increasing suitability for prairie species while the American south showed dramatic decreases in suitability. Species from the same functional group tended to respond similarly to the same predicted future conditions in broad trends, but nearly all species experienced slight variation in the degree and extent of changed suitability across North America. These slight inter-specific differences indicate the strong likelihood of novel community assemblages as climate change effects worsen, and also indicate that restoration efforts will have to change the priority of species to be included in seed-mixes in order to make the most effective mix possible.