Persist in Place or Shift in Space? Evaluating the Adaptive Capacity of Species to Climate Change

Lindsey L Thurman, Bruce A Stein, Erik A Beever, Wendy Foden, Sonya R Geange, Nancy Green, John E Gross, David J Lawrence, Olivia LeDee, Julian D Olden, Laura M Thompson, Bruce E Young
Posted on: 7/19/2022 - Updated on: 7/19/2022

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Assessing the vulnerability of species to climate change serves as the basis for climate-adaptation planning and climate-smart conservation, and typically involves an evaluation of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity (AC). AC is a species’ ability to cope with or adjust to changing climatic conditions, and is the least understood and most inconsistently applied of these three factors. We propose an attribute-based framework for evaluating the AC of species, identifying two general classes of adaptive responses: “persist in place” and “shift in space”. Persist-in-place attributes enable species to survive in situ, whereas the shift-in-space response emphasizes attributes that facilitate tracking of suitable bioclimatic conditions.

We provide guidance for assessing AC attributes and demonstrate the framework's application for species with disparate life histories. Results illustrate the broad utility of this generalized framework for informing adaptation planning and guiding species conservation in a rapidly changing climate.

  • Adaptive capacity (AC) – the ability of species to cope with or adjust to climatic changes – is a key component of vulnerability, yet is difficult to evaluate and apply in practice
  • We describe an attribute-based framework for evaluating the AC of species or populations, which applies broadly to animals and plants
  • We identified “persist in place” and “shift in space” as two classes of responses that reflect the type and level of AC in a species or population
  • Operationalizing the concept of AC facilitates not only the development of adaptation strategies but also the identification of effective management actions under climate change


Thurman, L.L., Stein, B.A., Beever, E.A., Foden, W., Geange, S.R., Nancy Green, Gross, J.E., Lawrence, D.J., LeDee, O., Olden, J.D., Thompson, L.M., Young, B.E. 2020. Frontiers in Ecology and in the Environment, 18(9): 520–528, doi:10.1002/fee.2253.

Affiliated Organizations

Frontiers in Ecology and in the Environment Journal


Document Type
Adaptation Phase
Target Climate Changes and Impacts