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What are Climate Change Refugia?

Climate Change Refugia


    Warmer air and water temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and altered fire regimes associated with climate change threaten many important natural and cultural resources in the northwestern and northeastern U.S. However, not all places on the landscape are changing in the same way. Refugia are areas that remain relatively buffered from contemporary climate change over time and enable persistence of valued physical, ecological, and socio-cultural resources. This can occur from independent or interacting processes that dampen local climatic variability through time or amplify spatial heterogeneity within a region. In Figure 1 (to the left) we review representative examples of these processes. How and whether these processes will be maintained as climate changes in the future remain important research questions. These refugia may provide an opportunity for protecting important natural and cultural resources in the face of climate change.

    As identification is key to conserving climate change refugia, we begin with a discussion of the processes that create them. Climate change refugia are characterized by the occurrence of relatively stable local climatic conditions that persist over time, despite change at regional and global scales. We suggest that understanding the processes that lead to climate change refugia will be critical for effectively identifying, mapping, and conserving them.

    In many environments, current modeling techniques are not able to capture fine-scale processes adequately. Current scientific research aims to define, map, and evaluate refugia across the Northwest and Northeast region. However, much of this research has yet to make its way into regional resource management and conservation plans.

    Therefore, in an effort to ensure that recent, ongoing, and future research properly addresses regional management and conservation priorities, the Northwest and Northeast Climate Adaption Science Center have commissioned the Refugia Research Coalition (RRC) to:

  1. Identify the most important resource management priorities related to refugia in the Northwest and Northeast.

  2. Summarize and synthesize the available refugia research and research products.

  3. Identify future research priorities and products and help resource managers incorporate refugia concepts into their management plans.

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