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Establishing Climate Change Vulnerability Rankings for Hawaiian Native Plants

Expanding a Dynamic Model of Species Vulnerability to Climate Change for Hawai`i and Other Pacific Island Ecosystems: A Pacific Islands CSC Funding Opportunity 2013 Project
Principal Investigator
Lucas Fortini


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Hawaiʻi is considered a worldwide biodiversity hotspot, with nearly 90 percent of its native plants found nowhere else in the world. However, about half of these native plants are imperiled by threats including human development, non-native species, and climate change. Through this project, scientists modeled the relative vulnerability of over 1,000 native plant species to the effects of climate change. A panel of experts in Hawaiian plant species assisted with the development of the model and verified its results. From the model, researchers were able to develop a vulnerability score for each plant species and identify categories of species with high, medium, and low vulnerability to climate change. This information will be highly [...]

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“Kalopa native forest, Hawaii - Credit: Alan Cressler”
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The Hawaiian Islands are home to a variety of native species that have been subject to numerous threats including development of habitat for human use, predation by introduced herbivores, and competition with invasive plant species. In addition to these threats global climate change is expected to increase temperature and alter patterns of precipitation in Hawaii. This project models the relative vulnerability of native plant species to the effects of climate change, in order to assist resource managers in effectively allocating limited resources to efficiently preserve and protect current and future habitat for native plants. We modeled vulnerability by creating an expert system – a network model linking biological traits of various plant species with the projected changes in species ranges under the effect of climate change. A panel of experts in Hawaiian plant species participated in the model design, identifying factors expected to affect a species’ ability to successfully respond to climate change. Once the model results were available, this same panel verified that the model results agreed with their own expert opinion on a sample of species with which they were familiar. The results are relative vulnerability scores for 1,056 native Hawaiian plant species. Due to limitations of the modeling process and the available data, the exact vulnerability scores are less important than the general ranking, and can be used to identify categories of species with high, middle, and low vulnerability to climate change. --- As global climate change continues to impact Pacific Islands, the need for local and regional adaptation has made vulnerability assessments increasingly useful decision-making tools for resource managers. A vulnerability assessment can help resource managers prioritize conservation actions and guide climate change adaptation. In collaboration with research and management partners from federal, state and non-profit organizations, project researchers have devised a flexible species vulnerability approach that can be easily updated with improved data and thus better fits the Pacific reality of often limited and uncertain information. This project funded advancement and application of work that was sponsored by the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative in prior years. Recently the completion of their first species vulnerability assessment showed that the researchers can use their novel model approach to assess the vulnerability of each individual native Hawaiian plant species to climate change (1086 species). However, given some shortcomings of the original approach the team proposes to make substantial expansion and improvements in their assessment efforts to comprehensively consider the full range of species responses to climate change and thus fill a critical knowledge gap defined by natural resource scientists and managers in the region.

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Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC 1311017d-16ff-4e28-afd2-aa80b8968b5a

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