Assessing Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems in the Southeastern U.S.
The southeastern U.S. contains a unique diversity of ecosystems that provide important benefits, including habitats for wildlife and plants, good water quality, and various recreation opportunities. While information on climate change implications exists for some of these ecosystems, a synthesis of this information for the entire Southeast is needed to enable regional decision-makers to prioritize current efforts and plan future research and monitoring programs to ensure protection of these ecosystems. We assessed climate change vulnerability for ecosystems in the southeastern US and Caribbean. We selected a set of twelve important ecosystems for assessment after creating a list of candidate ecosystems and soliciting input from experts. For these ecosystems, we compiled data and literature related to three components of vulnerability: sensitivity, exposure, and adaptive capacity. We then summarized all information into a qualitative vulnerability rating for each ecosystem. Next, for two of the twelve ecosystems, we used NatureServe’s Habitat Climate Change Vulnerability Index (HCCVI) framework as an alternative approach for assessing vulnerability. This approach develops a series of numeric indices for components of vulnerability, and results in an overall numeric vulnerability rating. Of the twelve ecosystems we assessed in the first approach, five were rated as having high vulnerability, six had moderate vulnerability, and one had low vulnerability. For the two ecosystems we assessed with both approaches, vulnerability ratings generally agreed. We concluded our work by identifying critical needs for informing future ecosystem vulnerability assessments in the Southeast and beyond.