Environmental Management

, Volume 50, Issue 6, pp 1152-1163

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

A Risk-Based Approach to Evaluating Wildlife Demographics for Management in a Changing Climate: A Case Study of the Lewis’s Woodpecker

  • Erin TowlerAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research Email author 
  • , Victoria A. SaabAffiliated withUnited States Department of Agriculture, Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • , Richard S. SojdaAffiliated withNorthern Rocky Mountain Science Center, United States Geological Survey
  • , Katherine DickinsonAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , Cindy L. BruyèreAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , Karen R. NewlonAffiliated withMontana Natural Heritage Program


Given the projected threat that climate change poses to biodiversity, the need for proactive response efforts is clear. However, integrating uncertain climate change information into conservation planning is challenging, and more explicit guidance is needed. To this end, this article provides a specific example of how a risk-based approach can be used to incorporate a species’ response to climate into conservation decisions. This is shown by taking advantage of species’ response (i.e., impact) models that have been developed for a well-studied bird species of conservation concern. Specifically, we examine the current and potential impact of climate on nest survival of the Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) in two different habitats. To address climate uncertainty, climate scenarios are developed by manipulating historical weather observations to create ensembles (i.e., multiple sequences of daily weather) that reflect historical variability and potential climate change. These ensembles allow for a probabilistic evaluation of the risk posed to Lewis’s Woodpecker nest survival and are used in two demographic analyses. First, the relative value of each habitat is compared in terms of nest survival, and second, the likelihood of exceeding a critical population threshold is examined. By embedding the analyses in a risk framework, we show how management choices can be made to be commensurate with a defined level of acceptable risk. The results can be used to inform habitat prioritization and are discussed in the context of an economic framework for evaluating trade-offs between management alternatives.


Climate change Species vulnerability Adaptation Avian conservation Forest management Risk