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Informing adaptation strategies for maintaining landscape connectivity for Northern Rockies wildlife in the face of climate change

October 20, 2017

Establishing connections among natural landscapes is the most frequently recommended strategy for adapting management of natural resources in response to climate change. The U.S. Northern Rockies still support a full suite of native wildlife, and survival of these populations depends on connected landscapes. Connected landscapes support current migration and dispersal as well as future shifts in species ranges that will be necessary for species to adapt to our changing climate. Working in partnership with state and federal resource managers and private land trusts, we sought to: 1) understand how future climate change may alter habitat composition of landscapes expected to serve as important connections for wildlife, 2) estimate how wildlife species of concern are expected to respond to these changes, 3) develop climate-smart strategies to help stakeholders manage public and private lands in ways that allow wildlife to continue to move in response to changing conditions, and 4) explore how well existing management plans and conservation efforts are expected to support crucial connections for wildlife under climate change. We assessed vulnerability of eight wildlife species and four biomes to climate change, with a focus on potential impacts to connectivity. Our assessment provides some insights about where these species and biomes may be most vulnerable or most resilient to loss of connectivity and how this information could support climate-smart management action. We also encountered high levels of uncertainty in how climate change is expected to alter vegetation and how wildlife are expected to respond to these changes. This uncertainty limits the value of our assessment for informing proactive management of climate change impacts on both species-specific and biome-level connectivity (although biome-level assessments were subject to fewer sources of uncertainty). We offer suggestions for improving the management relevance of future studies based on our own insights and those of managers and biologists who participated in this assessment and provided critical review of this report.