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A national-scale assessment of climate change impacts on species: assessing the balance of risks and opportunities for multiple taxa

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  • James W. Pearce-Higgins
  • Tom Oliver
  • Tom August
  • Matthew John Carroll
  • Dario Massimino
  • Nancy Ockendon
  • Joanne Savage
  • Malcolm Ausden
  • Richard B. Bradbury
  • Simon Duffield
  • Nicholas Macgregor
  • Mike D Morecroft
  • Olly Watts
  • Björn Beckmann
  • Richard Fox
  • Helen E Roy
  • Peter Sutton
  • Kevin Walker
  • Humphrey Q. P. Crick


Publication details

JournalBiological Conservation
DateAccepted/In press - 23 Jun 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 14 Jul 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Sep 2017
Issue numberA
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)124-134
Early online date14/07/17
Original languageEnglish


It is important for conservationists to be able to assess the risks that climate change poses to species, in order to inform decision making. Using standardised and repeatable methods, we present a national-scale assessment of the risks of range loss and opportunities for range expansion that climate change could pose for over 3000 plants and animals. Species were selected by their occurrence in England, the primary focus of the study, but climate change impacts were assessed across Great Britain, widening their geographical relevance. A basic risk assessment that compared projected future changes in potential range with recently observed changes classified 21% of species as being at high risk and 6% at medium risk of range loss under a B1 climate change scenario. A greater number of species were classified as having a medium (16%) or high (38%) opportunity to potentially expand their distribution. A more comprehensive assessment, incorporating additional ecological information, including potentially confounding and exacerbating factors (e.g. dispersal, habitat availability and other constraints), was applied to 402 species, of which 35% were at risk of range loss and 42% may expand their range extent. This study covers a temperate region with a significant proportion of species at their poleward range limit; the balance of risks and opportunities from climate change may be different elsewhere. The outcome of both risk assessments varied between taxonomic groups, with bryophytes and vascular plants containing the greatest proportion of species at risk from climate change. Upland habitats contained more species at risk than other habitats. Whilst the overall pattern was clear, confidence was generally low for individual assessments, with the exception of well-studied taxa such as birds. In response to climate change, nature conservation needs to plan for changing species distributions and an uncertain future.

Bibliographical note

© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.

    Research areas

  • Adaptation, Climate change, Climate envelope, Great Britain, Risk assessment, Vulnerability

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