Assessing Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems in the Southeastern U.S.

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The southeastern U.S. contains a unique diversity of ecosystems that provide important benefits, including habitat for rare wildlife and plants, improved water quality, and recreation opportunities. Understanding how climate change will affect these ecosystems is vital for knowing how best to protect them and the services they supply. The goal of this project was to assess the climate change vu...

The southeastern U.S. contains a unique diversity of ecosystems that provide important benefits, including habitat for rare wildlife and plants, improved water quality, and recreation opportunities. Understanding how climate change will affect these ecosystems is vital for knowing how best to protect them and the services they supply.

The goal of this project was to assess the climate change vulnerability of 12 key ecosystems in the southeastern U.S. and Caribbean, ranging from Caribbean coastal mangrove to Nashville Basin limestone glade and woodland. Scientists used the existing scientific literature and geospatial analysis to determine each ecosystem’s sensitivity to changes in climate, its exposure level to those changes, and its capacity to adapt. Together, this information was compiled into a qualitative vulnerability ranking for each ecosystem. For two of the 12 ecosystems, scientists additionally assessed vulnerability using NatureServe’s Habitat Climate Change Vulnerability Index framework.

Of the 12 ecosystems examined, five were rated as having high vulnerability to climate change, six had moderate vulnerability, and one had low vulnerability. For the two ecosystems assessed with multiple approaches, these rankings generally agreed. Researchers additionally identified critical management actions for reducing threats to and promoting adaptation of these ecosystems. Collectively, the results of this project can help regional decision-makers plan and prioritize their conservation and monitoring efforts.