Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 1433–1441 | Cite as

Assessing the vulnerability of rare plants using climate change velocity, habitat connectivity, and dispersal ability: a case study in Alberta, Canada

  • Quinn E. BarberEmail author
  • Scott E. Nielsen
  • Andreas Hamann
Original Article


Climate change generally requires species to migrate northward or to higher elevation to maintain constant climate conditions, but migration requirement and migration capacity of individual species can vary greatly. Individual populations of species occupy different positions in the landscape that determine their required range shift to maintain similar climate, and likewise the migration capacity depends on habitat connectivity. Here, we demonstrate an approach to quantifying species vulnerabilities to climate change for 419 rare vascular plants in Alberta, Canada, based on a multivariate velocity of climate change metric, local habitat fragmentation, and migration capacity. Climate change velocities indicated that future migration requirements ranged from 1 to 5 km/year in topographically complex landscapes, such as the Alberta Foothills and Rocky Mountains. In contrast, migration requirements to maintain constant climate in relatively flat Boreal Plains, Parkland, and Grassland ranged from 4 to 8 km/year. Habitat fragmentation was also highest in these flat regions, particularly the Parkland Natural Region. Of the 419 rare vascular plants assessed, 36 were globally threatened (G1–G3 ranking). Three globally threatened species were ranked as extremely vulnerable and five species as highly vulnerable to the interactions among climate change velocity, habitat fragmentation, and migration capacity. Incorporating dispersal characteristics and habitat fragmentation with local patterns in climate change velocity improves the assessment of climate change threats to species and may be applied to guide monitoring efforts or conservation actions.


Climate change velocity Climate refugia Species conservation Seed dispersal Migration corridors Managed relocation Assisted migration 



We thank David Roberts for contributing spatial data to this analysis. We thank the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) and Climate Change Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) project for feedback. This research was funded by the Wilburforce Foundation Grant 1304 to SEN, and a Canadian Natural Sciences and the Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant RGPIN-330527-07 to AH.

Supplementary material

10113_2015_870_MOESM1_ESM.docx (61 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 61 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Quinn E. Barber
    • 1
    Email author
  • Scott E. Nielsen
    • 1
  • Andreas Hamann
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Renewable ResourcesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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