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Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems
Contact Information
  • Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems
  • 333 Broadway SE. Suite 115
  • Albuquerque, NM 87102-3497
  • 505-724-3660
  • 505-724-3688 (fax)
You are here: Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems / Research by Project / Tools to Assess and Assist Vulnerable Species

Tools to Assess and Assist Vulnerable Species at Risk from Climate Change

Project Title

Tools to Assess and Assist Vulnerable Species at Risk from Climate Change


Managing species and their habitats under the threat of climate change is an increasing concern for the managers of natural resources. We developed a scoring system for assessing the relative vulnerability or resilience of species to the potential effects of climate change. The System for Assessing Vulnerability of Species (SAVS) climate change tool ranks species in the order of their relative vulnerability or resilience using a set of criteria and based on expected changes in temperature, precipitation, and vegetation [A System for Assessing Vulnerability of Species (SAVS) to Climate Change].

We have completed three case studies to date. Using an earlier version (v1.0) of SAVS, we assessed an entire suite of terrestrial vertebrates for riparian forests of the Middle Rio Grande, New Mexico (Friggens and others 2010, Finch and others 2011). Results of this case study were designed to identify and coordinate priority actions across the large number of land managers who oversee this region. Importantly, we found that the greatest vulnerability was associated with not only rare but also relatively common species that generally receive little management attention. We focused on scoring threatened, endangered, rare, and species at-risk for two clearly defined management units, Fort Huachuca and the Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona (Bagne and Finch 2010). Based on specific areas of expected vulnerability along with current threats, we also identified management options, several of which applied to multiple species, such as protecting and enhancing natural or artificial water sources. On Coronado NF, we assessed 30 species (8 birds, 13 mammals, 5 reptiles and 4 amphibians) (Coe et al., 2012). The Elegant Trogon and Tarahumara Frog were most vulnerable with a high score of 9.9 out of a possible score of 20 points. Both of these species, as well as the next three- highest scoring species, utilize riparian habitat. Only one species, the Slevinís bunchgrass lizard, received a score which may reflect some resilience to climate change.

The SAVS climate change tool provides managers with information about which of the species assessed are potentially most vulnerable to future changes in climate. In conjunction with other species information (e.g., population estimates) and consideration of additional impacts (e.g., forest fuels management) SAVS can help determine how to maintain populations at sustainable levels. Currently, we are integrating output from SAVS with information gathered from the assessment process to identify appropriate management actions and assist with the development of management action plans. Future applications will integrate scoring derived from SAVS with spatially explicit data and data relating to other threats to identify hotspots of risk for biodiversity loss.

Selected Publications

Prairie Rattlesnake
Prairie Rattlesnake from the Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico

GSD Principal Investigators

Finch, Deborah    Program Manager and Supervisory Biologist    505-724-3671
Friggens, Megan MacKellar    Research Ecologist    505-724-3679

Cooperators and Sponsors

Jennifer Davidson, University of Arizona
Don Falk, University of Arizona
Lisa Graumlich, University of Arizona
Erika Rowland, University of Arizona

Department of Defense (Legacy program)
The Nature Conservancy
USFS Washington Office Research and Development

Related Links

Scanning the Conservation Horizon

USDA Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center

USDA Forest Service Climate Change and Bird Atlas

Chiricahua Leopard Frog
Jim Rorabaugh, US Fish and Wildlife
An assessment of vulnerability to climate change conducted by GSD biologists for 30 vertebrate species on the Coronado National Forest, AZ, predicted that Chiricahua leopard frog is likely to be one of the most vulnerable species of the 30.
Project Focal Areas