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Patterns and biases of climate change threats in the IUCN Red List

Trull, Nicholas, Böhm, Monika, Carr, Jamie
Conservation biology 2018 v.32 no.1 pp. 135-147
amphibians, birds, climate, climate change, data collection, ecosystems, extinction, grasslands, habitats, invasive species, risk, shrublands, species diversity, temperature
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List assessments rely on published data and expert inputs, and biases can be introduced where underlying definitions and concepts are ambiguous. Consideration of climate change threat is no exception, and recently numerous approaches to assessing the threat of climate change to species have been developed. We explored IUCN Red List assessments of amphibians and birds to determine whether species listed as threatened by climate change display distinct patterns in terms of habitat occupied and additional nonclimatic threats faced. We compared IUCN Red List data with a published data set of species’ biological and ecological traits believed to infer high vulnerability to climate change and determined whether distributions of climate change‐threatened species on the IUCN Red List concur with those of climate change‐threatened species identified with the trait‐based approach and whether species possessing these traits are more likely to have climate change listed as a threat on the IUCN Red List. Species in some ecosystems (e.g., grassland, shrubland) and subject to particular threats (e.g., invasive species) were more likely to have climate change as a listed threat. Geographical patterns of climate change‐threatened amphibians and birds on the IUCN Red List were incongruent with patterns of global species richness and patterns identified using trait‐based approaches. Certain traits were linked to increases or decreases in the likelihood of a species being threatened by climate change. Broad temperature tolerance of a species was consistently related to an increased likelihood of climate change threat, indicating counterintuitive relationships in IUCN assessments. To improve the robustness of species assessments of the vulnerability or extinction risk associated with climate change, we suggest IUCN adopt a more cohesive approach whereby specific traits highlighted by our results are considered in Red List assessments. To achieve this and to strengthen the climate change‐vulnerability assessments approach, it is necessary to identify and implement logical avenues for further research into traits that make species vulnerable to climate change (including population‐level threats).