Future climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies will be dependent on the best available projections of how the regional climate will change and the impacts those changes will have on the region’s natural and cultural resources. Understanding the vulnerability of various species and habitats to climate change within the Appalachian LCC is of critical importance for making effective conservation decisions. The AppLCC funded a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment research project that addresses several factors: 1) how the Cooperative should acquire information about the climate vulnerability of Appalachian species and habitats to develop vulnerability assessments for a suite of key species and habitats to share with partners; 2) compilation of known vulnerability assessments of species and habitats, and 3) new climate change vulnerability assessments of selected species and habitats in the AppLCC region.
In 2012, the Appalachian LCC tasked NatureServe with a two-phase project that to explore understanding of climate change in the Appalachian landscape. The first phase focused on assembling a panel of experts to provide guidance on a) selecting approaches to conduct vulnerability assessments; b) identifying appropriate climate data to use in the assessments, and c) prioritizing species and habitats to assess for vulnerability to climate change. The panel assessed the climate change literature to assist NatureServe in discerning the most appropriate methodologies for use in the region, and provided a set of recommendations to guide the Appalachian LCC and its partners in conducting additional vulnerability assessments. In order to prioritize species and habitats to assess in the second phase, we compiled known existing vulnerability assessments of approximately 650 species and 30 habitats completed in the AppLCC region. We divided the large land mass making up the LCC into three subregions for analysis: the Central Appalachian subregion (northern portion of the LCC from New York to northern Virginia and West Virginia), the Cumberland and Southern Appalachian subregion (the southern portion of the LCC from southern Virginia to Georgia) and the western “triangle” of the LCC, the Interior Low Plateau, ranging from Ohio west to Illinois and south to Alabama. We found that the least amount of existing information occurs in the Interior Low Plateau, an area that receives the highest exposure to projected climate change. We then identified data gaps and developed a list of additional species and habitats to be assessed anew.The final list was finalized in partnership with the AppLCC staff, and analyses were conducted on 41 species and three habitats.
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