Identifying riparian climate corridors to inform climate adaptation planning

Meade Krosby , David M. Theobald, Robert Norheim, Brad H. McRae
Posted on: 3/03/2019 - Updated on: 2/28/2020

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Riparian habitats have been frequently identified as priority areas for conservation under climate change because they span climatic gradients and have cool, moist microclimates relative to surrounding areas. They are therefore expected to act as dispersal corridors for climate-induced species range shifts and to provide microclimatic refugia from warming. Despite recognition of these values, rigorous methods to identify which riparian areas are most likely to facilitate range shifts and provide refugia are currently lacking. We completed a novel analysis across the Pacific Northwest, USA, that identifies potential riparian corridors featuring characteristics expected to enhance their ability to facilitate range shifts and provide refugia. These features include large temperature gradients, high canopy cover, large relative width, low exposure to solar radiation, and low levels of human modification. These variables were used to calculate a riparian climate-corridor index using a multi-scale approach that incorporates results ranging in scale from local watersheds to the entire Pacific Northwest. Resulting index values for potential riparian corridors in the Pacific Northwest were highest within mountainous areas and lowest within relatively flat, lowland regions. We also calculated index values within ecoregions, to better identify high-value riparian climate corridors within the relatively flat, degraded areas where they may most contribute to climate adaptation. We found that high-value riparian climate-corridors are least protected in flat, lowland areas, suggesting that such corridors should be high priorities for future conservation effort. Our analysis provides critical information on valuable riparian climate-corridors to guide climate adaptation efforts (and riparian management and restoration efforts) in the Pacific Northwest, while offering a novel approach that may be applied to similar efforts in other geographies.