Protecting and restoring ecological connectivity is a leading climate adaptation strategy forbiodiversity conservation (Heller & Zavaleta 2009, Lawler 2009), because species are expectedto have difficulty tracking shifting climates across fragmented landscapes (Thomas et al. 2004).Connectivity conservation is thus a primary focus of numerous large-scale climate adaptationinitiatives (e.g., U.S. Department of Interior’s Landscape Conservation Cooperatives), and a corestrategy of many federal climate adaptation plans (NPS 2010, USFS 2011, USFWS 2010). Thishas led to a growing need for approaches that identify priority areas for connectivityconservation in a changing climate.
Riparian areas have been identified as key targets for such efforts (Seavy et al. 2009), becausethey span the climatic gradients species are likely to follow as they track shifting areas ofclimatic suitability, thereby providing natural corridors for climate-induced range shifts. Riparianareas already act as critical movement corridors for diverse taxa (Hilty and Merenlender 2004),particularly within heavily modified landscapes. Riparian areas also feature micro-climates thatare significantly cooler and more humid than immediately surrounding areas (Olsen et al. 2007),and thus are expected to provide micro-climatic refugia from warming (Seavy et al. 2009).Riparian areas may also offer especially effective conservation umbrellas under climate change,because they contain high levels of species richness (Naiman et al. 1993), are utilized by manyupland species as well as riparian obligates, and directly contribute to the health of adjacentfreshwater habitats (Pusey & Arthington 2003).
This project produced a base layer of riparian area and condition prioritized riparian areas likely to increase biological resilience to climate change. This project acted as a pilot for developing riparian area data layers for the WGA Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool.
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