An early warning index for vulnerable species

Understanding the impacts of climate warming and land use change represent a major challenge for conservation managers. To date it has largely been based on projections of the future distribution of species. The aim of this study, led by CEED Postdoc Fellow Ramona Maggini, was to move beyond the simple projections of likely impacts of global change to identify the most vulnerable species. Towards this end the researchers proposed a new vulnerability index that integrates estimations of projected range change and different proxies of species resilience in a quantitative way. The proposed index is generally applicable, completely quantitative, and it allows ranking species so as to prioritize conservation actions.

To illustrate the applicability of the vulnerability index they used breeding birds in Switzerland as an example of a conservation target. The vulnerability index relies on five indicators quantifying different aspects of the projected change in distributional area, the reservoirs available for the species and their recent population trend. Species distribution was modelled using three different techniques (GAM, MARS and BRT) and then projected for 2050 and 2100 according to two different IPCC scenarios of climate change coupled with two regional land use scenarios to represent different magnitudes of the stressors and the range of possible outcomes.

According to the different contributions of the base indicators, different patterns of vulnerability can be distinguished. In
Switzerland, breeding birds inhabiting coniferous woodlands, alpine habitats and wetlands have significantly higher vulnerability to climate and land use change than species in other habitats.

The proposed vulnerability index represents an early warning system as it identifies species that are currently not threatened,
but are very likely to become so. As such, it complements the assessment of risk of species’ extinction based on the Red List and on their international importance.

Maggini R, A Lehmann, N Zbinden, NE Zimmermann, J Bolliger, B Schröder, R Foppen, H Schmid, M Beniston & L Jenni (2014). Assessing species vulnerability to climate and land use change: the case of the Swiss breeding birds. Diversity and Distributions. doi: 10.1111/ddi.12207

“The proposed vulnerability index represents an early warning system as it identifies species that are currently not threatened, but are very likely to become so.”

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