Climate Change Emergency Care
In medical emergencies, patients are prioritized based on the severity of their condition. This allows doctors to treat as many patients as possible when there are not enough resources available to treat all of them immediately. With the threat of climate change reaching crisis levels for many species, land and resource managers need a means of sorting species into priority groups based on their relative risk. To address this need, we have developed the NatureServe Climate Change Vulnerability Index, a new tool that helps rapidly assess the vulnerability of species to the changing climate.
The Index looks at a species’ exposure to climate change within its range and its sensitivity to the effects of a warming climate. It uses data about a species’ distribution and natural history, such as its relationships with its habitat, other species and the climate—the type of data NatureServe has been developing for more than three decades—along with historical and predicted data about temperature, precipitation and sea level rise. These data are combined to score the species’ anticipated climate change sensitivity. The results can help land and resource managers select priority species to monitor, identify the key factors causing the species to be vulnerable, and evaluate the likely effectiveness of alternative strategies to promote species’ adaptation to climate change.
The Index is already being applied in Nevada, where the results will be used by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Nevada Natural Heritage Program and other partners to support their efforts to modify the state’s wildlife action plan. Initial results show that a species’ ability to “relocate”—both in having the physical ability to adjust to new habitats and in not having barriers such as mountain ranges or urban areas in the way—and its tolerance for changes in precipitation are key factors causing climate change vulnerability for some Nevada species. The black rosy-finch and the northern leopard frog are examples of species that need immediate care.
Many species are threatened by climate change. We can’t help them all immediately, but the NatureServe Climate Change Vulnerability Index can help us understand which ones to help first and how.