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Designing a sustainable monitoring framework for assessing impacts of climate change at Joshua Tree National Park, USA

Barrows, Cameron W., Hoines, Josh, Fleming, Kathleen D., Vamstad, Michael S., Murphy-Mariscal, Michelle, Lalumiere, Kristen, Harding, Mitzi
Biodiversity and conservation 2014 v.23 no.13 pp. 3263-3285
biodiversity, biologists, climate, climate change, drying, environmental exposure, environmental factors, extinction, models, monitoring, national parks, prediction, refuge habitats, risk, scientists, temperature, trees, United States
Predicting species’ responses to a warming and drying (for North America’s desert southwest region) climate provides focus for monitoring to track shifts in species’ occupancy, and ultimately identifying management options to stem losses to biodiversity. Here we describe a monitoring framework to achieve that objective. A first step is to identify which species to monitor; which species will provide the greatest information for discerning the effects of climate change versus the myriad of other stressors that may impact their distributions and abundance. To select focal species we employed two complimentary approaches. One tool, vulnerability assessments (VAs), use available scientific literature to assess exposure to environmental stressors and adaptive capacity or resilience to climate change. Another approach is habitat suitability modeling (HSM) coupled with simulated temperature shifts. This method statistically combines environmental variables at known species’ locations, such as climate and terrain, to model the complex interaction of factors that constrain a species’ distribution. All other variables held constant, simulated temperature shifts can identify species’ sensitivities to those shifts and identify potential refugia. We used these tools to assess risk of local extinction due to predicted levels of climate change, as well as to identify where to locate monitoring plots to best capture the shifts in species distributions over time. A challenge in developing a monitoring program to document the effects of climate change on biodiversity is program sustainability. One way to support and enhance the sustainability of such a program will be to couple trained biologists with volunteer citizen scientists.