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Choice of baseline climate data impacts projected species’ responses to climate change

Baker, David J.; Hartley, Andrew J.; Butchart, Stuart H.M.; Willis, Stephen G.

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Authors

David J. Baker

Andrew J. Hartley

Stuart H.M. Butchart



Abstract

Climate data created from historic climate observations are integral to most assessments of potential climate change impacts, and frequently comprise the baseline period used to infer species-climate relationships. They are often also central to downscaling coarse resolution climate simulations from General Circulation Models (GCMs) in order to project future climate scenarios at ecologically relevant spatial scales. Uncertainty in these baseline data can be large, particularly where weather observations are sparse and climate dynamics are complex (e.g. over mountainous or coastal regions). Yet, importantly, this uncertainty is almost universally overlooked when assessing potential responses of species to climate change. Here we assessed the importance of historic baseline climate uncertainty for projections of species’ responses to future climate change. We built species distribution models (SDMs) for 895 African bird species of conservation concern, using six different climate baselines. We projected these models to two future periods (2040-2069, 2070-2099), using downscaled climate projections, and calculated species turnover and changes in species-specific climate suitability. We found that the choice of baseline climate data constituted an important source of uncertainty in projections of both species turnover and species-specific climate suitability, often comparable with, or more important than, uncertainty arising from the choice of GCM. Importantly, the relative contribution of these factors to projection uncertainty varied spatially. Moreover, when projecting SDMs to sites of biodiversity importance (Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas), these uncertainties altered site-level impacts, which could affect conservation prioritisation. Our results highlight that projections of species’ responses to climate change are sensitive to uncertainty in the baseline climatology. We recommend that this should be considered routinely in such analyses.

Citation

Baker, D. J., Hartley, A. J., Butchart, S. H., & Willis, S. G. (2016). Choice of baseline climate data impacts projected species’ responses to climate change. Global Change Biology, 22(7), 2392-2404. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.13273

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 25, 2016
Online Publication Date Apr 19, 2016
Publication Date Jul 1, 2016
Deposit Date Apr 12, 2016
Publicly Available Date Apr 19, 2017
Journal Global Change Biology
Print ISSN 1354-1013
Electronic ISSN 1365-2486
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 22
Issue 7
Pages 2392-2404
DOI https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.13273

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Copyright Statement
This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Baker, David J., Hartley, Andrew J., Butchart, Stuart H.M. & Willis, Stephen G. (2016). Choice of baseline climate data impacts projected species’ responses to climate change. Global Change Biology, 22(7): 2392-2404, which has been published in final form at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.13273. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.







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