Incorporating climate science in applications of the U.S. Endangered Species Act for aquatic species


McClure, M., Alexander, M.A., Borggaard, D., Boughton, D., Crozier, L.G., Griffis, R., Jorgensen, J.C., Lindley, S.T., Nye, J., Rowland, M.J., Seney, E.E., Snover, A.K., Toole, C., van Houtan, K. 2013. Incorporating climate science in applications of the U.S. Endangered Species Act for aquatic species. Conservation Biology 27(6): 1222-1233, doi: 10.1111/cobi.12166.


Aquatic species are threatened by climate change but have received comparatively less attention than terrestrial species. We gleaned key strategies for scientists and managers seeking to address climate change in aquatic conservation planning from the literature and existing knowledge. We address 3 categories of conservation effort that rely on scientific analysis and have particular application under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA): assessment of overall risk to a species; long-term recovery planning; and evaluation of effects of specific actions or perturbations.

Fewer data are available for aquatic species to support these analyses, and climate effects on aquatic systems are poorly characterized. Thus, we recommend scientists conducting analyses supporting ESA decisions develop a conceptual model that links climate, habitat, ecosystem, and species response to changing conditions and use this model to organize analyses and future research. We recommend that current climate conditions are not appropriate for projections used in ESA analyses and that long-term projections of climate-change effects provide temporal context as a species-wide assessment provides spatial context. In these projections, climate change should not be discounted solely because the magnitude of projected change at a particular time is uncertain when directionality of climate change is clear. Identifying likely future habitat at the species scale will indicate key refuges and potential range shifts. However, the risks and benefits associated with errors in modeling future habitat are not equivalent.

The ESA offers mechanisms for increasing the overall resilience and resistance of species to climate changes, including establishing recovery goals requiring increased genetic and phenotypic diversity, specifying critical habitat in areas not currently occupied but likely to become important, and using adaptive management.