Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments Inform Management Efforts for Species of Conservation Concern

Eastern Massasauga RattlesnakeClimate change vulnerability assessment is a method for estimating the extent to which species are exposed to changes in climate across different parts of their range, as well as their ecological sensitivities to those changes. This allows researchers to assess the consequences of past climate variability and future climate change for species of conservation concern, and to study how these consequences may vary across a species’ range. In collaboration with the Climate Change Ecology Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, an Eastern Threat Center ecologist developed full life cycle, spatial population models to perform vulnerability assessments for Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus), Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus), and Henslow’s Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowi). Findings, while surprising in some cases, have helped researchers develop management recommendations by identifying climate refugia as well as high-risk regions. For example, it is commonly assumed that as the climate warms, optimal conditions for northerly species will shift further north. However, the team found that Henslow’s Sparrow was more sensitive to precipitation across its midwestern grassland habitat, and shifts in precipitation patterns are expected to result in more southerly climate refugia for this species.

Pictured: The research team’s findings that both drought and flooding conditions negatively impacted survival rates, and the likelihood of population persistence, in the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake’s isolated wetland habitats were used in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Eastern Massasauga Species Status Assessment. Photo by Mike Redmer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Related publications:

External Partners/Collaborators: Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Contact: Lars Pomara, ecologist,

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