Refugia are Important but are they Connected? Mapping Well-Connected Climate Refugia for Species of Conservation Concern in the Northeastern U.S.

Fiscal Year: 
FY'19
Project Leader: 
Research Partners: 
Brad Compton (UMass Amherst); Ethan Plunkett (UMass Amherst); Scott Jackson (UMass Amherst); Melissa Ocana (UMass Amherst)
Status: 
Ongoing
Science Themes: 

As the climate continues to change, vulnerable wildlife species will need management strategies to help them adapt to these changes. One specific management strategy is based on the idea that in certain locations, climate conditions will remain suitable for species to continue to inhabit into the future. These locations are known as climate “refugia”. In contrast, other locations may become too hot, dry, or wet for species to continue to inhabit.

When wildlife managers are considering protecting land for vulnerable species, it can be helpful for them to understand where these climate refugia are located, so that they can be prioritized for conservation. However, most tools used by resource managers to manage these important places identify the geographic locations of refugia, but do not examine how connected those locations are to other refugia or how accessible they are to current species distributions. This project aims to close this knowledge gap. The main objective of this project is to provide a map of projected refugia networks at the end of the century for each of 10 Species in Greatest Conservation Need in the northeastern U.S. A preliminary list of species includes Canada Lynx, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Spotted Turtle, Wood Turtle, Bicknell’s Thrush, Moose, Prairie Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, and Virginia Rail, however this list will be finalized with input from stakeholders in the region. Researchers will identify locations of climate refugia for each species and then map how well each refugia is connected to the species’ current distribution as well as other refugia.

This project will result in maps of well-connected refugia that will remain crucial habitat for wildlife given current and future changes in climate. This information will support efforts of the USFWS Northeast Region to assess habitat needs for several species under federal consideration for listing as well as other Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Maps of refugia connectivity will also support the prioritization of on-the-ground habitat management in the region.