Changing temperature and precipitation patterns in the South Central U.S are already having an impact on wildlife. Hotter and drier conditions are prompting some species to move in search of cooler conditions, while other species are moving into warmer areas that were once unsuitable for them. These changes in the distribution of wildlife populations present challenges for wildlife managers, hunters, tribal communities, and others who are making decisions about wildlife stewardship.
This project examined the effect of shifting climate conditions on 20 species of conservation concern in the South Central United States. These species, which include the black-tailed prairie dog and the lesser prairie-chicken, were selected according to several criteria, including their expected sensitivity to climatic change. Researchers examined where these species currently occur in order to better understand the environmental, especially climate, conditions necessary for their survival. Climate and land use change projections for 2050 and 2070 were used to assess the potential future distributions of conditions suitable for these species.
Maps evaluating patterns of loss of suitable conditions for the species were developed and incorporated into the publicly accessible New Mexico state-level CHAT (Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool). CHATs are being used by states across the western U.S. to facilitate conservation and project planning, and are useful to decision-makers at all levels of government. Therefore, incorporating information about the potential impact of climate and land use change on species distributions into this tool will ensure that this important information is accessible to managers.