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Can Wildlife Species Evolve in Response to a Changing Climate? Informing Species Vulnerability Assessments

Does Variation in Life History and Evolutionary Response Affect Species Vulnerability to Climate Change? Implications for Management
Principal Investigator
Benjamin Letcher


Start Date
End Date
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Climate change poses a variety of threats to biodiversity. Most efforts to assess the likely impacts of climate change on biodiversity try to rank species based on their vulnerability under changed environmental conditions. These efforts have generally not considered the ability of organisms to adjust their phenotype to the changing environment. Organisms can do this by one of two ways. First, they can adjust their phenotype via non-evolutionary pathways. Second, they can undergo adaptive evolutionary change. We used two interconnected approaches to evaluate thermal adaptation capacity in a cold-water fish species. 1) Using tagging data, we estimated thermal performance curves for wild fish. The curves indicate how fish body growth [...]

Child Items (4)


Principal Investigator :
Benjamin Letcher
Co-Investigator :
Keith Nislow, Andrew Whiteley
Funding Agency :
Northeast CSC
Cooperator/Partner :
John O’Leary
CMS Group :
Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) Program

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“Genesee River, New York: Credit: Alan Cressler”
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“Brook Trout - Credit: Ben Letcher, USGS”
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Project Extension

typeTechnical Summary
valueClimate change vulnerability assessments have been widely used to predict impacts of climate change on biodiversity. Incorporation of an organism’s intrinsic adaptive capacity (in an evolutionary sense) into vulnerability assessments has the potential to change management decisions. Once intrinsic adaptive capacity is taken into consideration, the ranking of species vulnerabilities might change and management strategies might be altered. In this proposal we will quantitatively incorporate intrinsic adaptive capacity into species vulnerability assessments. We will develop a novel species vulnerability framework that explicitly includes adaptive capacity. We will then use demographic and evolutionary models to overlay a wide range of taxa (e.g. plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fishes, and insects) encompassing a wide variety of life-histories in the NE CSC region onto this framework. Finally, we will ground truth our novel approach with a detailed examination of climate change vulnerability of three species with the most available empirical data. We will use our results to define and develop decision support tools for conservation and management options that include population and species-level intrinsic adaptive capacity. A web tool that incorporates our framework will ensure its wide dissemination. Project PIs and cooperators are drawn from the USGS, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USDA, and the Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife. These personnel have a proven track record for delivering research that meets the needs of resource managers in the NE CSC region.

Budget Extension

typeAgreement Type
typeAgreement Number

Additional Information


Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC 55510074-37ba-4573-afd4-e3172b4074e1
StampID NCCWSC NE14-LB0174

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