Akçakaya Lab
Applied Ecology and Conservation Biology








Ornate Box Turtle is among the species in a study that focused on the predictability of species extinction risks due to climate change. Photograph © Geoffrey A. Hammerson.

Projected population density of a gekko species in Madagascar
Population density of a gekko species in Madagascar, based on climate change projections.

Volcano rabbit metapopulation dynamics under climate change

Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity

We develop and apply methods that link climate change models, ecological niche (species distribution or habitat suitability) models, and demographic models to predict the extinction risk of species under global climate change.

The development of this coupled niche-population modeling approach was based on our previous work (2003-2005) on metapopulation models with dynamic spatial structure, which were applied to simulate the effects of landscape changes resulting from timber harvest and fires. The first applications of this modeling approach to climate change were developed in a series of workshops in 2007-2009, in Silwood Park, UK; Madrid, Spain; and Adelaide, Australia. One of the goals of these projects is to contribute to the development of Red List Guidelines for identifying species threatened by climate change.

Research papers that proposed, developed, and applied the coupled niche-demographic modeling approach (as well as other methods) are listed and described below.

Main papers

Akçakaya*, H.R., S.H.M. Butchart, J.E.M. Watson, R.G. Pearson. 2014. Preventing species extinctions resulting from climate change. Nature Climate Change 4:1048-1049.
We review recent studies that show that current IUCN Red List assessment methods can identify species vulnerable to extinction because of climate change. Focusing on the implications of these findings for conservation policy and future research, we emphasize that for effective conservation under climate change, species must be assessed more completely and more regularly, and adaptation actions must be initiated swiftly once species are identified as threatened. We also outline policy-relevant research that would improve assessment and conservation of species impacted by climate change.

Stanton, J.C., K.T. Shoemaker, R.G. Pearson, R.G., and H.R. Akçakaya*. 2015. Warning times for species extinctions due to climate change. Global Change Biology 21:1066–1077 DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12721
In this paper, we tested the performance of the IUCN Red List system, the most commonly used method for identifying species threatened with extinction. We show that Red List system would provide several decades of warning time for species that might go extinct because of climate change, but conservation actions should begin as soon as a species is listed at the lowest threat category. Overall, the Red List criteria provide a sensitive and precautionary way to assess extinction risk under climate change.
(Read news items by IUCN and in the Conservation Magazine.)

Pearson, R.G., J.C. Stanton, K.T. Shoemaker, M.E. Aiello-Lammens, P.J. Ersts, N. Horning, D.A. Fordham, C.J. Raxworthy, H.Y. Ryu, J. McNees, and H.R. Akçakaya*. 2014. Life history and spatial traits predict extinction risk due to climate change. Nature Climate Change 4:217-221 doi:10.1038/nclimate2113.
This paper indicates that climate change causes high, but predictable, extinction risks. Although widely used assessments of threatened species, such as the IUCN Red List, were not developed with the effects of climate change in mind, this study of amphibian and reptile species endemic to the US concluded that climate change may not be fundamentally different from other extinction threats in terms of identifying species in danger of extinction.
(Read News and Views by A. Guisan.)

Fordham, D.A., H.R. Akçakaya, J. Alroy, F. Saltré, T.M. Wigley, B.W. Brook.2016. Predicting and mitigating future biodiversity loss using long-term ecological proxies. Nature Climate Change 6:909-916
This paper presents an approach that combines coupled niche-demographic models with recent advances in geochronological dating, palaeoclimate reconstructions and molecular techniques for retrospective modeling. These long-term retrospective analyses will improve efforts to predict the likely effects of future climate and other environmental change on biodiversity, and target conservation management resources most effectively.

Fordham, D.A., H.R. Akçakaya, B.W. Brook, A. Rodríguez, P.C. Alves, E. Civantos, M. Triviño, M.J. Watts and M.B. Araújo. 2013. Adapted conservation measures are required to save the Iberian lynx in a changing climate. Nature Climate Change 3:899-903. doi:10.1038/nclimate1954.
This paper focuses on impact of climate change on the world's most endangered cat, and shows that the species may go extinct within 50 years unless conservation plans (such as translocations, or assisted migration) are changed to take climate change into account.

Pacifi, M., W.B. Foden, P. Visconti, J.E.M. Watson, S. H.M. Butchart, K.M. Kovacs, B.R. Scheffers, D.G. Hole, T.G. Martin, H.R. Akçakaya, R.T. Corlett, B. Huntley, D. Bickford, J.A. Carr, A.A. Hoffmann, G.F. Midgley, P. P. Kelly, R.G.Pearson, S.E. Williams, S.G. Willis, B. Young, C. Rondinini. 2015. Assessing species vulnerability to climate change. Nature Climate Change 5:215-225.
Foden, W.B., S.H.M. Butchart, S.N. Stuart, J.-C. Vié, H.R. Akçakaya, A. Angulo, L.M. DeVantier, A. Gutsche, E. Turak, L. Cao, S.D. Donner, V. Katariya, R. Bernard, R.A. Holland, A.F. Hughes, S.E. O'Hanlon, S.T. Garnett, Ç.H. Sekercioglu and G.M. Mace. 2013. Identifying the world's most climate change vulnerable species: a trait-based assessment of birds, amphibians and corals. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65427.

The first of these two papers reviews correlative, mechanistic and trait-based approaches to assessing species' climate change vulnerability. The second paper uses a trait-based system to rank bird, amphibian and coral species according to their vulnerability to climate change.

Fordham, D.A., H.R. Akçakaya, M. Araújo, D. Keith, B.W. Brook. 2013. Tools for integrating range change, extinction risk and climate change information into conservation management. Ecography 36:956-964.
This paper synthesizes findings from published plant and animal case studies to highlight advantages of linking ecological nich models with demographic modeling approaches.

Ongoing project:

Responses of Bird Populations to Extreme Weather Events: This study focuses on the effect of climate variability on bird populations and the role of wildlife refuges in supporting the viability of these populations.

Papers introducing the coupled niche-population modeling approach

Akçakaya, H.R., S.H.M. Butchart, G.M. Mace, S.N. Stuart, and C. Hilton-Taylor. 2006. Use and misuse of the IUCN Red List Criteria in projecting climate change impacts on biodiversity. Global Change Biology 12:2037-2043. [PDF]
This paper proposed an approach to red listing species impacted by climate change, based on developing guidelines for using Criterion E. These guidelines would be informed by results of integrated climate-habitat-population models for different groups of species.

Keith, D.A, H.R. Akçakaya, W. Thuiller, G.F. Midgley, R.G. Pearson, S.J. Phillips, H.M. Regan, M.B. Araújo, T.G. Rebelo. 2008. Predicting extinction risks under climate change: coupling stochastic population models with dynamic bioclimatic habitat models. Biology Letters 4:560-563. [PDF]
This is the paper that introduced the coupled niche-population modeling approach for assessing the impact of climate change on species viability, and applied this approach to South African plants. This paper has been highly cited.

Anderson, B., H.R. Akçakaya, M. Araújo, D. Fordham, E. Martinez-Meyer, W. Thuiller, B.W. Brook. 2009. Dynamics of range margins for metapopulations under climate change. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 276:1415-1420. [PDF]
This paper applied the coupled niche-population modeling approach to two species of lagomorphs and demonstrated the use of this approach in analyzing range dynamics.

Brook, B.W., H.R. Akçakaya, D.A. Keith, G.M. Mace, R.G. Pearson, and M.B. Araújo. 2009. Integrating bioclimate with population models to improve forecasts of species extinctions under climate change. Biology Letters 5:723-725. [PDF]
This paper outlined the recent improvements to the coupled niche-population modeling approach that resulted from a workshop in Adelaide.

Applications of the coupled niche-population modeling approach

The following papers applied the coupled niche-population modeling approach to various species impacted by climate change and a variety of conservation questions, and/or made methodological improvements.

Aiello-Lammens, M.E., M.L. Chu-Agor, M. Convertino, R.A. Fischer, I. Linkov, and H.R. Akçakaya. 2011. The impact of sea-level rise on snowy plovers in Florida: integrating geomorphological, habitat, and metapopulation models. Global Change Biology 17:3644-3654. [PDF]

Stanton, J.C., R.G. Pearson, N. Horning, P. Ersts, and H.R. Akçakaya. 2012. Combining static and dynamic variables in species distribution models under climate change. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 3: 349-357. [PDF]

Fordham, D.A., C. Mellin C, B.D.Russell, H.R. Akçakaya, C.J.A. Bradshaw, M.E. Aiello-Lammens†, M.J. Caley, S.D. Connell, S. Mayfield, S.A. Shepherd and B.W. Brook. 2013. Population dynamics can be more important than physiological limits for determining range shifts under climate change. Global Change Biology 19:3224-3237.
This paper looks at the impact of climate change on commercially exploited blacklip abalone Haliotis rubra and greenlip abalone H. laevigata inhabiting coastal reefs of South Australia.

Harris, J.B.C., D.A. Fordham, P.A. Mooney, L.P. Pedler, M.B. Araújo, D.C. Paton, M.G. Stead, M.J. Watts, H.R. Akçakaya, and B.W. Brook. 2012. Managing the long-term persistence of a rare cockatoo under climate change. Journal of Applied Ecology 49: 785-794. [PDF]

Fordham, D.A., H.R. Akçakaya, M. Araújo, J. Elith, D. Keith, R. Pearson, T.D. Auld, C. Mellin, J.W. Morgan, T.J. Regan, M. Tozer, M.J. Watts, M. White, B. Wintle, C. Yates, and B.W. Brook. 2012. Plant extinction risk under climate change: are forecast range shifts alone a good indicator of species vulnerability to global warming? Global Change Biology 18: 1357-1371. [PDF]

Fordham, D.A., H.R. Akçakaya, M. Araujo and B.W. Brook. 2012. Modelling range shifts for invasive vertebrates in response climate change. Pages 86-108 in: Conserving Wildlife Populations in a Changing Climate, edited by E. Post, D. Doak and J. Brodie. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Applications by other researchers

Researchers in other labs and organizations have been using the coupled niche-population modeling approach detailed in the publications above. Most of these applications are listed in this website: PVA and Modeling Case Studies: Applications of RAMAS to Specific Cases.