Accounting for adaptive capacity and uncertainty in assessments of species’ climate-change vulnerability

Alisa A. Wade, Brian K. Hand, Ryan P. Kovach, Gordon Luikart, Diane C. Whited, Clint C. Muhlfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Climate-change vulnerability assessments (CCVAs) are valuable tools for assessing species’ vulnerability to climatic changes, yet failure to include measures of adaptive capacity and to account for sources of uncertainty may limit their effectiveness. We took a more comprehensive approach that incorporates exposure, sensitivity, and capacity to adapt to climate change. We applied our approach to anadromous steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and nonanadromous bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), threatened salmonids within the Columbia River Basin (U.S.A.). We quantified exposure on the basis of scenarios of future stream temperature and flow, and we represented sensitivity and capacity to adapt to climate change with metrics of habitat quality, demographic condition, and genetic diversity. Both species were found to be highly vulnerable to climate change at low elevations and in their southernmost habitats. However, vulnerability rankings varied widely depending on the factors (climate, habitat, demographic, and genetic) included in the CCVA and often differed for the 2 species at locations where they were sympatric. Our findings illustrate that CCVA results are highly sensitive to data inputs and that spatial differences can complicate multispecies conservation. Based on our results, we suggest that CCVAs be considered within a broader conceptual and computational framework and be used to refine hypotheses, guide research, and compare plausible scenarios of species’ vulnerability to climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-149
Number of pages14
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • CCVA
  • Capacidad adaptativa
  • Columbia River Basin
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss
  • Salvelinus confluentus
  • Salvelinus confluentus
  • adaptive capacity
  • bull trout
  • cuenca del Río Columbia
  • evaluaciones de vulnerabilidad al cambio climático
  • steelhead trout
  • uncertainty


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