Impact for Good: The Climate Change Vulnerability Index
NatureServe’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index is gaining momentum, with usage increasing significantly since the release of Version 2.0 at April’s Biodiversity Without Boundaries 2010. At least 17 states are planning or actively using the Index to modify their state wildlife action plans, and a pair of early-adopter states, Nevada and Pennsylvania, have already completed assessments. With support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the conference launch included training for eight more member programs (Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Texas) on using the Index for plant assessments.
The NatureServe Climate Change Vulnerability Index can rapidly identify plant and animal species’ relative vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Using readily available information about the natural history, distribution, and landscape circumstances of species, the Index enables conservation practitioners to calculate their exposure and sensitivity to changes and predict any likely range contractions or population reductions—or both—during the coming years. Users can apply the resulting assessments as part of any analysis of the vulnerability of species to climate change.
U.S. federal agencies, Canadian provinces, and international conservation organizations are also adopting the Index. NatureServe member programs in Ontario and Manitoba are leading efforts to incorporate the Index in provincial planning. The U.S. Forest Service recently contracted with NatureServe to use the Index to assess plant species occurring on rare habitat “islands” in California. And Fundación Natura, a Colombian NGO, is using the index to develop a conservation plan for an important habitat corridor. Bruce Young, NatureServe’s director of species science and the project lead for the Index, said “We’re excited that the Index has been widely adopted to help understand how climate change may affect plants and animals in many parts of the hemisphere.”
Thanks in part to support from Duke Energy, the Index’s development team met regularly prior to the conference in April, sifting through user feedback from a variety of sources. Through a series of rigorous meetings, including an intensive two-day meeting at NatureServe headquarters in Arlington, Va., the team worked through the most difficult issues and set priorities. They had just enough time left to complete the final changes, update the guidelines, and successfully post the new version of the Index for its debut at the conference.
Version 2.0 incorporates several significant improvements including: a better moisture index; improved handling of barriers to species movements; revisions to several rating factors; enhanced handling of cave and groundwater-dwelling species; and more examples to guide users through assessments.