Biotic and climatic velocity identify contrasting areas of vulnerability to climate change

Metrics that synthesize the complex effects of climate change are essential tools for mapping future threats to biodiversity and predicting which species are likely to adapt in place to new climatic conditions, disperse and establish in areas with newly suitable climate, or face the prospect of extirpation. The most commonly used of such metrics is the velocity of climate change, which estimates the speed at which species must migrate over the earth’s surface to maintain constant climatic conditions. However, “analog-based” velocities, which represent the actual distance to where analogous climates will be found in the future, may provide contrasting results to the more common form of velocity based on local climate gradients. Additionally, whereas climatic velocity reflects the exposure of organisms to climate change, resultant biotic effects are dependent on the sensitivity of individual species as reflected in part by their climatic niche width. This has motivated development of biotic velocity, a metric which uses data on projected species range shifts to estimate the velocity at which species must move to track their climatic niche. We calculated climatic and biotic velocity for the Western Hemisphere for 1961–2100, and applied the results to example ecological and conservation planning questions, to demonstrate the potential of such analog-based metrics to provide information on broad-scale patterns of exposure and sensitivity.

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