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Slow and steady wins the race? Future climate and land use change leaves the imperiled Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) behind

April 26, 2018

Climate change is accompanied by shifts in species distributions, as portions of current ranges become less suitable. Maintaining or improving landscape connectivity to facilitate species movements is a primary approach to mitigate the effects of climate change on biodiversity. However, it is not clear how ongoing changes in land use and climate may affect the existing connectivity of landscapes. We evaluated shifts in habitat suitability and connectivity for the imperiled Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) in Wisconsin using species distribution modeling in combination with different future scenarios of both land use change and climate change for the 2050s. We found that climate change had significant effects on both habitat suitability and connectivity, however, there was little difference in the magnitude of effects among different economic scenarios. Under both our low- and high-CO2 emissions scenarios, suitable habitat for the Blanding's turtle shifted northward. In the high-emissions scenario, almost no suitable habitat remained for Blanding's turtle in Wisconsin by the 2050s and there was up to a 100,000-fold increase in landscape resistance to turtle movement, suggesting the landscape essentially becomes impassable. Habitat loss and landscape resistance were exponentially greater in southern versus northern Wisconsin, indicating a strong trailing edge effect. Thus, populations at the southern edge of the range are likely to “fall behind” shifts in suitable habitat faster than northern populations. Given its limited dispersal capability, loss of suitable habitat may occur at a rate far faster than the Blanding's turtle can adjust to changing conditions via shifts in range.