In the context of fish and wildlife conservation, vulnerability to climate change refers to the extent to which a species, habitat, or ecosystem is susceptible to harm from climate change impacts. It can be considered a relative concept, where you have some species or systems that are more vulnerable than others (and you may even have some that are not vulnerable at all but perhaps even benefit from climate change) – this is the “what” question.You can also be more specific as to why a particular target or set of targets is vulnerable.
Senior Climate Change Specialist
National Wildlife Federation
Climate change vulnerability refers to the extent to which a
species, habitat, or ecosystem is susceptible to harm from
climate change impacts
• What things are most vulnerable
• Why they are vulnerable
Why Assess Vulnerability?
Vulnerability assessments can help:
• Prioritize species and systems for
• Develop management strategies to
address climate change
• Efficiently allocate resources
What vulnerability assessments
• Make a conservation decision for
Key Steps for Undertaking a
1. Determine objectives and
2. Gather relevant data and
3. Assess the components of
4. Apply assessment results in
Overarching Considerations for Vulnerability
• Climate change
• Other factors
• Data needs, cost, time
Approaches for Putting the Pieces Together
• Detailed modeling efforts
– In-house or commissioned
• Vulnerability indices
– e.g., NatureServe Index
• Expert elicitation
– Supplement and/or supplant modeling
Using Vulnerability Assessment Results
Help prioritize species and systems
• Address most vulnerable? Least?
• Base on ecological/economic
Help design management strategies
• Reduce sensitivity
• Reduce exposure
• Enhance adaptive capacity
Help allocate resources efficiently
• Set research priorities?
• Consider triage?
• Are you connecting the “right”
habitats? Will target species/systems
Reduce other stressors:
• Do existing stressors increase vulnerability to
climate change? Does climate change
exacerbate other stressors?
• Resilience “of what” “to what”?
Other Adaptation Questions
What if you can’t reduce
• Do we still do what we are already
doing to try to “buy time”?
• Do you decide to “let nature take its
• Do you actively facilitate a transition
to some new state?
• Should we change our conservation