Does Variation in Life History and Evolutionary Response Affect Species Vulnerability to Climate Change? Implications for Management

Project Type: 
Stakeholder-Identified Research Project
Fiscal Year: 
Project Leader: 
Research Partners: 
Keith Nislow (USFS); Andrew Whiteley (University of Massachusetts); John O’Leary (Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife)
Science Themes: 

Climate change poses a variety of threats to biodiversity. Most efforts to assess the likely impacts of climate change on biodiversity try to rank species based on their vulnerability under changed environmental conditions. These efforts have generally not considered the ability of organisms to adjust their phenotype to the changing environment. Organisms can do this by one of two ways. First, they can undergo adaptive evolutionary change. Second, they can adjust their phenotype via non-evolutionary pathways. Both of these factors could substantially change species climate change vulnerability rankings. In this proposal, we will draw from a wide range of existing data to incorporate the ability of species to adjust their phenotype to climate change into vulnerability assessments. We will do this through a series of models that relate the extent to which a species’ physical environment will change to the number of individuals likely to remain. Our models will allow a detailed comparison of vulnerability to climate change with and without evolutionary adaptive change and will include some possible management actions that augment a species’ capacity for this adaptive change. Our research will fill a major knowledge gap and provide a substantial step forward in species vulnerability assessments.

  • Andrew Whiteley, "'Evaluating Species Sensitivity to Climate Change in the Light of Intrinsic Adaptive Capacity: Vulnerability Framework and Management Options", Wildlife Society Meeting in Winnipeg, 10/20/15
  • Evan Childress, Connectivity in Stream Networks. Conservation Biology meeting in Madison WI, July 2016