Support to the Pacific Islands LCC

Science Center Objects

Within a context of human-mediated land cover change, invasive competitors, predators and disease, conservation biologists and practitioners are now concerned that climate change will further impact the beleaguered flora and fauna of the Pacific Islands. Across the region and elsewhere, to determine these potential impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems, research efforts have focused on translating current trends and future projections of climate to impacts and responses of the regional biota. Without such information, the need to adapt current management and conservation practices to minimize the impacts of climate change on island species and ecosystems cannot be fully realized.

Overview:

Model of habitat changes

Climate change modeling allows scientists to look at results across multiple species at a landscape scale in order to best inform conservation and management decisions. 

Within a context of human-mediated land cover change, invasive competitors, predators and disease, conservation biologists and practitioners are now concerned that climate change will further impact the beleaguered flora and fauna of the Pacific Islands. Across the region and elsewhere, to determine these potential impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems, research efforts have focused on translating current trends and future projections of climate to impacts and responses of the regional biota. Without such information, the need to adapt current management and conservation practices to minimize the impacts of climate change on island species and ecosystems cannot be fully realized.

In spite of a growing number of examples, rigorous research detailing the specific impacts of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems of the Pacific is still sparse. Some of the critical knowledge gaps reflect questions being asked elsewhere including: the impact of projected changes in the spatial distribution of individual species and native communities is highly uncertain; the impact of sea-level rise on remaining coastal native communities is still poorly understood; the impact of climate change on mediating the critical competitive interactions between native and invasive plants is a challenging community ecology issue with clear conservation implications; and the role of temperature and moisture extremes in anticipating projected changes that are currently based on average conditions has not been properly explored.

Project Objectives:

The objective of this project is to generate information focusing on climate change knowledge gaps that clearly address Pacific island conservation and management needs. This project relies on a close partnership with the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative (one of DOI’s Landscape Conservation Cooperatives), to engage with the region’s research and management conservation community to identify and address critical climate change related gaps in terrestrial ecological knowledge that currently hamper climate change adaptation.

Highlights and Key Findings:

An assessment of the climate change vulnerability of each native Hawaiian terrestrial plant species was completed and is available. This species climate change vulnerability assessment is possibly the largest in scope ever conducted in the United States, with over 1000 species considered, 319 of which are listed as either endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1979, filling a critical knowledge gap for resource managers in the region.

Assessment information can be used in several conservation-related prioritization decisions including what to conserve (e.g., which species to focus on), where to conserve (e.g., prioritizing new protected areas), how to conserve (i.e., prioritize management actions and conservation strategies), along with research and monitoring prioritization decisions. Thus, VAs provide important information that can guide adaptive management planning and implementation.

Our results show that species already under conservation concern due to non-climatic threats (such as invasive competition, invasive predation, and land-use change) tend to be the species most vulnerable to climate change. Because of this link between climate change vulnerability and currently recognized extinction risk, characteristics previously related to endangerment and past extinctions (archipelago endemism, single-island endemism) are common to many of Hawai‘i’s taxa that are most vulnerable to climate change. Despite a large number of factors considered in this assessment, our results at the end replicate findings from many other regions that link higher species vulnerability with decreasing range size. Results of particular concern are the numerous species that by 2100 have no compatible climate areas left. These species may persist within microrefugia within their current range, or through adaptation, neither of which are very likely for those species with limited distributions and small number of populations.

A journal article documenting an approach of considering the risks of species invasions under climate change is available. In this research we have highlighted native areas across the Hawaiian landscape that are at risk from invasive species range expansion either currently or due to projected climate shifts by end-of-century.