Reading group: Assessing species vulnerability to climate change

Climate change is predicted to be one of the major threats to the biodiversity loss in the coming century, both via direct impacts on species and through synergistic effects of other extinction drivers. For last week’s reading group, master’s student Anwar Hossain, selected a paper titled “Assessing species vulnerability to climate change”, published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The paper, led by Michela Pacifici and his colleagues of the IUCN Climate Change Specialist Group, examined the focus of existing studies on species’ vulnerability to climate change, and discussed the limitations /benefits of three main approaches used to conduct such assessments (i.e., correlative, mechanistic and trait-based approaches).

The author’s analysed 97 studies published between 1996 and 2014 and found a high degree of bias in taxonomic coverage, scale of application and geographic area. Most of the papers assessed species vulnerability in only part of their range, with >60% of studies developed at local scale and only 4% at a global scale. Birds have been the most frequently studied taxon, followed by mammals and plants. Furthermore, more than 70% of studies covered only three continents/sub-continents, with almost 33% studies from North America, 24% in Europe, and 14% in Australia. Importantly, they found a paucity of studies in the most bio-diverse tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

We thought this paper provided a useful summary of the three main approaches for assessing species vulnerability to climate change, and agreed with the author’s conclusions that more work in this area should incorporate indirect impacts of climate change on biological communities. The paper also touched on how difficult it can be to validate model predictions using past and current species distributions. The reading group thought the authors could have explained in more detail how they ‘selected the most representative papers (in terms of both spatial and temporal scales, and taxa)’ from their systematic ISI Web of Knowledge literature search. Nevertheless, this paper prompted good discussion about how we should/could assess species’ vulnerability to climate change.

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