Choosing and using climate change scenarios for ecological impacts assessments and conservation decisions


Snover, A.K., Mantua, N.J., Littell, J.S., Alexander, M.A., McClure, M., Nye, J. 2013. Choosing and using climate change scenarios for ecological impacts assessments and conservation decisions. Conservation Biology 27(6): 1147-1157, doi: 10.1111/cobi.12163.


Increased concern over climate change is demonstrated by the many efforts to assess climate effects and develop adaptation strategies. Scientists, resource managers, and decision makers are increasingly expected to use climate information, but they struggle with its uncertainty. With the current proliferation of climate simulations and downscaling methods, scientifically credible strategies for selecting a subset for analysis and decision making are needed. Drawing on a rich literature in climate science and impact assessment, and experience working with natural resource scientists and decision makers, we devised guidelines for choosing climate-change scenarios for ecological impact assessment that recognize irreducible uncertainty in climate projections and address common misconceptions about this uncertainty. This approach involves identifying primary local climate drivers by climate sensitivity of the biological system of interest; determining appropriate sources of information for future changes in those drivers; considering how well processes controlling local climate are spatially resolved; and selecting scenarios considering observed emission trends, relative importance of natural climate variability, and risk tolerance and time horizon of the associated decision. The most appropriate scenarios for a particular analysis will not necessarily be the most appropriate for another due to differences in local climate drivers, biophysical linkages to climate, decision characteristics, and how well a model simulates the climate parameters and processes of interest. Given these complexities, we recommend interaction among climate scientists, natural and physical scientists, and decision makers throughout the process of choosing and using climate-change scenarios for ecological impact assessment.