Life History and Spatial Traits Predict Extinction Risk Due to Climate Change

Nature Climate ChangeRichard G. Pearson

An ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata). Photo by Geoff Hammerson | NatureServeThere is an urgent need to develop effective vulnerability assessments for evaluating the conservation status of species in a changing climate. Several new assessment approaches have been proposed for evaluating the vulnerability of species to climate change based on the expectation that established assessments such as the IUCN Red List need revising or superseding in light of the threat that climate change brings. However, although previous studies have identified ecological and life history attributes that characterize declining species or those listed as threatened, no study so far has undertaken a quantitative analysis of the attributes that cause species to be at high risk of extinction specifically due to climate change.

We developed a simulation approach based on generic life history types to show here that extinction risk due to climate change can be predicted using a mixture of spatial and demographic variables that can be measured in the present day without the need for complex forecasting models. Most of the variables we found to be important for predicting extinction risk, including occupied area and population size, are already used in species conservation assessments, indicating that present systems may be better able to identify species vulnerable to climate change than previously thought. Therefore, although climate change brings many new conservation challenges, we find that it may not be fundamentally different from other threats in terms of assessing extinction risks.

NatureServe Author(s)


  • Pearson RG, Stanton JC, Shoemaker KT, Aiello-Lammens ME, Ersts PJ, Horning N, Fordham DA, Raxworthy CJ, Ryu HY, McNees J, and Akçakaya HR. 2014. Life history and spatial traits predict extinction risk due to climate change. Nature Climate Change 4:217-221.