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Combined speeds of climate and land-use change of the conterminous US until 2050

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 811816 (2014) | Download Citation


High rates of climate and land-use changes threaten biodiversity and ecosystem function1,2, creating a need for integrated assessments and planning at regional to global scales. We develop a new approach to measure multivariate estimates of climate and land-use change that builds on recently developed measures of climate velocity3,4,5,6, and apply it to assess the combined speeds of climate and land use for the conterminous US from 2001 to 2051. The combined speeds of climate and land-use change are highest in a broad north-to-south swath in the central US and in parts of the intermountain west. Climate speeds are roughly an order of magnitude higher than land-use speeds in most regions, but land-use speed is particularly high in the Appalachians and north-central forests. Joint speeds are low across much of the intermountain west. Our results highlight areas expected to be most vulnerable to changes in biodiversity and ecosystem function due to the individual or combined effects of climate and land-use change. The integration of climate and land-use scenarios suggests different conservation prioritization strategies from climate velocities and species alone7.

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The authors would like to thank S. Veloz, G. Schuurman, S. Stewart and L. Estes for their helpful comments and suggestions, which improved this manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support for this research by the Bryson Climate, People and Environment Program, the HISTFUNC project (ERC Starting Grant 310886), NSF DEB-1257508, NSF’s Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program, and NASA’s Land Cover and Land Use Change Program.

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  1. Section of Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Ny Munkegade 114 DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

    • Alejandro Ordonez
  2. Center for Climatic Research (CCR), University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • Alejandro Ordonez
    •  & John W. Williams
  3. SILVIS Lab, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • Sebastián Martinuzzi
    •  & Volker C. Radeloff
  4. Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • John W. Williams


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A.O. and J.W.W. developed the multivariate metric, A.O. downscaled the climatic data, ran analyses, and produced figures and tables. S.M. and V.C.R. produced the land-use-change model scenarios. A.O. led the writing, with the assistance of J.W.W., S.M. and V.C.R. All authors contributed equally to development and discussion of ideas.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Alejandro Ordonez.

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