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Climate change will affect the composition of plant and animal communities in many habitats and geographic settings. This presents a dilemma for conservation programs – will the portfolio of protected lands we now have achieve a goal of conserving biodiversity in the future when the ecological communities occurring within them change? Climate change will significantly alter many plant communities, but the geophysical underpinnings of these landscapes, such as landform, elevation, soil, and geological properties, will largely remain the same. Studies show that extant landscapes with a diversity of geophysical characteristics support diverse plant and animal communities. Therefore, geophysically diverse landscapes will likely support diverse species assemblages in the future, although which species and communities will be present is not altogether clear. Following protocols advanced in studies spanning large regions, we developed a down-scaled, high spatial resolution measure of geophysical complexity based on Ecological Land Units (ELUs) and examined the relationship between plant species richness, ecological community richness, and ELU richness (number of different ELU types). We found that extant landscapes with high ELU richness had a greater variety of ecological community types and high species richness of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. We developed a spatial representation of diverse ELU landscapes to inform local conservation practitioners, such as land trusts, of potential conservation targets that will likely support diverse faunas and floras despite the impact of climate change.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.


Pamela Rubinoff and Donald Robadue are in the Graduate School of Oceanography.

Peter V. August, Christopher Damon and Charles LaBash are from the Department of Natural Resources Science.