Warmer temperatures and less precipitation in the western U.S. related to climate change are harming many important natural resources, including forests, rivers, and many fish and wildlife species. Climate refugia provide a potential opportunity for conserving resources and biodiversity in the face of climate change. These refugia are places where the climate will likely change less than the surrounding landscape and/or places in a landscape where species may move to find more suitable climates. For example, because climate change may alter the frequency, duration, or severity of droughts, small habitats that naturally retain water (drought refugia) may become increasingly important to many natural wildlife communities.
Although several approaches have been suggested for identifying climate refugia, large-scale mapping and evaluation of refugia have not yet been conducted in the Pacific Northwest. To address this information gap, researchers used existing information on hydrology, soil characteristics, topography etc. to map areas of refugia that can protect wildlife from regional changes in temperature and precipitation. The researchers mapped, explored, and compared several different types of refugia, both small and large. This included microrefugia from drought in the face of reduced snowpack and drought-induced insect outbreaks, as well as macrorefugia identified by projecting the future locations of today’s climate conditions.