Climate change vulnerability for species—Assessing the assessments

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Abstract

Climate change vulnerability assessments are commonly used to identify species at risk from global climate change, but the wide range of methodologies available makes it difficult for end users, such as conservation practitioners or policymakers, to decide which method to use as a basis for decision-making. In this study, we evaluate whether different assessments consistently assign species to the same risk categories and whether any of the existing methodologies perform well at identifying climate-threatened species. We compare the outputs of 12 climate change vulnerability assessment methodologies, using both real and simulated species, and validate the methods using historic data for British birds and butterflies (i.e. using historical data to assign risks and more recent data for validation). Our results show that the different vulnerability assessment methods are not consistent with one another; different risk categories are assigned for both the real and simulated sets of species. Validation of the different vulnerability assessments suggests that methods incorporating historic trend data into the assessment perform best at predicting distribution trends in subsequent time periods. This study demonstrates that climate change vulnerability assessments should not be used interchangeably due to the poor overall agreement between methods when considering the same species. The results of our validation provide more support for the use of trend-based rather than purely trait-based approaches, although further validation will be required as data become available.

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