Assessing vulnerability of biodiversity to climate change

The science of climate change impacts is well established both in terms of detecting and anticipating broad patters of change in species and ecosystems.  However to inform climate change adaptation within nature conservation, a more systematic assessment of vulnerability is often needed to compare between different species, habitats and ecosystems in order to target and prioritise action. 

For example species differ widely in the extent to which they are shifting their distribution and it is important to target action on those where this poses the greatest threat.

IPCC Working Group II (2014) described vulnerability as follows: The propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected. Vulnerability encompasses a variety of concepts and elements including sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt.  Vulnerability results from a combination of three elements:

  • Exposure – the extent of adverse climatic changes for a particular object of interest (e.g. how much the climate warms)
  • Sensitivity – the intrinsic attributes of a species or ecosystem for it to be harmed by climate change (e.g. how close a species is to its thermal limits)
  • Adaptive capacity – the capacity for natural or managed adjustment to offset the adverse impacts of climate change (e.g. capacity of a species to move).

Conservation management can take actions that affect adaptive capacity but in order to do so it needs to understand the other elements of vulnerability.  A wide variety of approaches to vulnerability assessment have been developed, but to date they have rarely been compared and evaluated. 

This meeting will seek to open up this topic area, with talks from experts involved in developing scientific methods and those involved in developing practical approaches to inform action.  It will provide a forum for the conservation community to come together to explore which are the most promising approaches; it will be of interest to academic, practitioner and policy communities.

This workshop is for you, if you:

  • carry out research on the vulnerability of species and ecosystems to climate change,
  • are a conservation scientist involved in policy and practices to conserve species threatened by climate change
  • are developing or use climate risk assessments in your research,
  • wish to discuss the main climate drivers of species’ vulnerability,
  • wish to explore different approaches for identifying vulnerability and conserving species,
  • would like to build new collaborations and network with other researchers,
  • would like to find out more about the research carried out by ZSL
  • would like to present a poster of your research on climate risk assessments

This event has now passed

Click the links to watch the presentations:

Georgina Magin, Flora and Fauna International
Climate change adaptation planning: Central Asia fruit & nut forests


Carol Turley, Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Ocean acidification and threats to marine ecosystems


Chris Thomas, University of York
Climate change impacts on terrestrial biodiversity


Christopher Wheatley, University of York

Climate change vulnerability frameworks - assessing the assessments


Harriet Orr, Environment Agency
Linking physical and biological vulnerability assessments in freshwater


Iain Brown, Stockholm Environment Institute/University of York
Integrating ecological considerations into wider assessments of risks to natural assets


Jamie Carr, Species Survival Commission
A changing climate will affect biodiversity and conservation efforts


Mike Morecroft, Natural England
Natural England's approach to vulnerability assessment


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