Mapping climate change vulnerability of aquatic-riparian ecosystems using decision-relevant indicators
Climate change has and is projected to continue to alter historical regimes of temperature, precipitation, and hydrology. To assess the vulnerability of climate change from a land management perspective and spatially identify where the most extreme changes are anticipated to occur, we worked in collaboration with land managers to develop a climate change vulnerability map for the midwestern United States with a focus on riparian systems. The map is intended for use by regional administrators to help them work across various program areas (e.g. fisheries, endangered species) to prioritize locations needing support for adaptation planning. The tool can also be utilized locally by managers to better understand the effects that projected climate scenarios have on the hydrology of management units as they develop adaptation strategies. The vulnerability map is watershed-based (360 watershed units within the region) and combines 15 climate change indicators that were selected by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service natural resource managers based upon known and anticipated effects to species and habitats. The projected change in each of these indicators from the historical period (1986–2005) to the future period (2040–2059) was aggregated into a composite score for each watershed. Landscape-scale metrics reflective of a watershed’s adaptive capacity were combined with the climate change indicators to produce a vulnerability score. We found sub-regional variation in vulnerability to climate change with the greatest vulnerability in Iowa, central Illinois, and northwest Ohio. Greater vulnerability was seen in the higher greenhouse gas concentration scenario, Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 compared to the lower greenhouse gas concentration scenario RCP 4.5, when looking at the mean of the five downscaled climate models used in this study. By quantifying and mapping climate change vulnerability, natural resource managers can better understand the degree of vulnerability for individual watersheds and identify areas of prioritization in regional and local planning efforts.