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

Fiscal Year: 
Project Leader: 
Research Partners: 
Keith Nislow (USFS); Andrew Whiteley (University of Massachusetts/ University of Montana); John O’Leary (Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife); Maria Meek (Michigan State University)
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.

  • Letcher, B.H., et al. What does small-scale variation in demographic responses to environmental drivers mean in a changing climate, invited, AWRA Spring Specialty Conference, Connecting the dots: the emerging science of aquatic system connectivity, Snowbird, Utah, May 2017.​
  • Letcher, B.H., Aquatic connectivity. Invited, USGS Northeast Climate Science Center 5-year Science meeting, Amherst, MA, May 2017.​
  • Letcher, B.H. and J. Walker, Data visualizations of complex data: useful or just cute? invited, Biennial Connecticut River Research Forum, Hadley, MA, March 2017.
  • Letcher, B.H., Decision support tools in, invited, Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources, Storrs, CT, March 2017.
  • Letcher, B.H., Regional databases and models: leveraging information, or 'Why should I contribute to a regional database'?, invited plenary, New England Association of Environmental Biologists, Hartford, CT, March 2017.
  • Evan Childress, Connectivity in Stream Networks. Conservation Biology meeting in Madison WI, July 2016
  • 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
  • Tool:  Stream Crossings Explorer (SCE) module of SHEDS