Assessing the Vulnerability of Wildlife and Habitats to Climate Change

Understanding how our changing climate will affect our wildlife species and the habitats on which the depend is key to designing and carrying out effective adaptation strategies to counter the impacts of global warming.

Plant and animal species vary widely in how they are likely to respond to change in temperature, precipitation, and other factors brought about by global warming. Vulnerability to climate change refers to the likelihood that these climate-induced shifts will have an adverse impact on a given species, habitat, or ecosystem.

Scanning the Conservation Horizon Report Cover

A Users Guide to Vulnerability Assessment

National Wildlife Federation led an effort to provide conservationists and resource managers with guidance and tools to help them conduct vulnerability assessments as part of broader climate change adaptation planning efforts.

This working group, which won the Department of Interior's Partners in Conservation Award for their collaboration, consisted of leading experts from federal and state agencies, universities, and non-profit conservation groups. 

The group's efforts resulted in a user's guide to vulnerability assessment and training curriculum. Titled Scanning the Conservation Horizon: A Guide to Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, this guide focuses on the key components of vulnerability--sensitivity and exposure--and reviews best practices for conducting assessments focusing on species, habitats, or ecosystems.

Helping Resource Managers Help Wildlife

Vulnerability assessments are a key step in adaptation planning by enabling managers to:

  • Identify those species and systems most likely to be in need of conservation actions as a result of climate change.

  • Develop adaptation strategies tailored for managing species and habitats in greatest need.

  • Foster collaboration at statewide and regional scales by providing a shared understanding of impacts and management options.

  • Allow scarce resources for wildlife conservation to be allocated efficiently in the face of climate change.

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