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Species across North America are being impacted by changing climate conditions. Plants and animals can respond to these changes in a variety of ways, including by shifting their geographic distributions. Determining whether or not observed biological changes, such as range shifts, are indeed the result of climate change is a key challenge facing natural resource managers and requires clarifying which areas have experienced detectable and significant changes in climate variables (such as monthly mean temperature or extreme precipitation).
The objective of this study is to identify areas across North America that have (or have not) experienced detectable changes in ecologically-relevant climate variables. The overall goal of this work is to improve the quality and efficiency of scientific investigations into the effects of climate change on biodiversity by providing a means for scientists to focus their analyses on areas that are truly experiencing significant changes. Project researchers will compare documented cases of species range shifts with global climate models to determine whether range shifts were the result of natural climate variability, or were in response to a level of climate variability that exceeds what is considered normal.
This project will provide natural resource managers with information on why, when, how, and where plants and animals are moving in response to changing climate conditions. This study provides an opportunity to improve species status and trends assessments by reducing uncertainty about whether observed biological trends are responding to ecological changes outside of the range of natural variability. This science will help to inform management and conservation decisions concerning plant and animal populations and their ability to adapt to changing conditions.