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Shifting Hotspots: Climate Change Projected to Drive Contractions and Expansions of Invasive Plant Abundance Habitats

Tuesday, February 20, 2024
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Climate change is expected to exacerbate the spread and impacts of invasive species, with hundreds of new invasive plant species projected to establish in the eastern U.S. With limited resources, identifying which range-shifting species to prioritize for monitoring and management can be challenging. One strategy is to prioritize species that are most likely to reach high abundance as these species should have the greatest impact on ecosystems. However, most current spatial models rely on species occurrence data (modeling habitat for locations where a species could occur), which often fail to accurately predict locations of species abundances.

In a new Diversity and Distributions study, NE CASC researchers Annette Evans and Bethany Bradley use species distribution models based on abundance data for 144 invasive plant species already established in the U.S. to predict current and future hotspots where climatic conditions are suitable for abundant populations. Current abundance hotspots (areas with climate suitable for more than 30 abundant invasive plant species) are located in the Great Lakes region, mid-Atlantic region and northern coastal Florida and Georgia. Given a two-degree celsius climate change scenario, these hotspots will shift an average of 213 km north, with some areas becoming suitable for abundant infestations of up to 21 new invasive plant taxa. 

The extent of future abundance habitat varied widely across the species included in the study. The authors found that future climatic conditions are projected to increase the extent of abundance habitat for one third of the plant species included in the study. In contrast, for 62% of modeled taxa, future climate conditions are projected to be less suitable for abundant populations, leading to a projected overall decline in abundance habitat. The resulting species range maps and state-specific watch lists produced from this work can inform proactive regulation, monitoring, and management of invasive plants most likely to cause future ecological impacts. 

Take Home Points

  • Climate change is projected to facilitate both expansion and contraction of habitat suitable for abundant populations of invasive plants. 
  • Abundance hotspots are projected to shift towards the Northeast, where some areas will become suitable for up to 21 new invasive plant species. 
  • Species specific range maps are available as geotiffs at
  • Future abundance habitat projections for all 144 plant species included in this study are also available on EDDmapS via the species search engine ( Choose the county option to see current and future projections of occurrence and abundance.

Management Implications

  • State lists of invasive plants with future abundance habitat are available in the supplementary materials and online (see Appendix 4).
  • Species-specific maps of abundance habitat can inform early detection and rapid response by identifying areas where invasive plants are expanding.
  • Areas where invasive plant abundances are projected to contract with climate change could be candidate sites for restoration.
  • Many invasive plants will remain abundant in locations where abundant populations are currently established; thus, current management strategies will need to be ongoing for these taxa and locations.