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Probabilistic measures of climate change vulnerability, adaptation action benefits, and related uncertainty from maximum temperature metric selection

Predictions of the projected changes in species distribution models and potential adaptation action benefits can help guide conservation actions. There is substantial uncertainty in projecting species distributions into an unknown future, however, which can undermine confidence in predictions or misdirect conservation actions if not properly considered. Recent studies have shown that the selection of alternative climate metrics describing very different climatic aspects (e.g., mean air temperature vs. mean precipitation) can be a substantial source of projection uncertainty. It is unclear, however, how much projection uncertainty might stem from selecting among highly correlated, ecologically similar climate metrics (e.g., maximum temperature in July, maximum 30-day temperature) describing the same climatic aspect (e.g., maximum temperatures) that is known to limit a species’ distribution. It is also unclear how projection uncertainty might propagate into predictions of the potential benefits of adaptation actions that might lessen climate change effects. We provide probabilistic measures of climate change vulnerability, adaptation action benefits, and related uncertainty stemming from the selection of four maximum temperature metrics for brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), a cold-water salmonid of conservation concern in the eastern U.S. Projected losses in suitable stream length varied by as much as 20% among alternative maximum temperature metrics for mid-century climate projections, which was similar to variation among three climate models. Similarly, the regional average predicted increase in brook trout occurrence probability under an adaptation action scenario of full riparian forest restoration varied by as much as 0.2 among metrics. Our use of Bayesian inference provides probabilistic measures of vulnerability and adaptation action benefits for individual stream reaches that properly address statistical uncertainty and can help guide conservation actions. Our study demonstrates that even relatively small differences in the definitions of climate metrics can result in very different projections and reveal high uncertainty in predicted climate change effects.

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