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


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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Figure 1: The speed and velocity (km decade−1) of climate and land-use change across the conterminous US, from 2001–2010 to 2041–2050 under RCP 6.0 and 1990s land-use scenarios.
Figure 2: Combined exposure of US ecosystems to high speeds of climate speeds and local land use.
Figure 3: Sensitivity of projected climate and land-use speeds to alternative scenarios.

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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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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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Correspondence to Alejandro Ordonez.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ordonez, A., Martinuzzi, S., Radeloff, V. et al. Combined speeds of climate and land-use change of the conterminous US until 2050. Nature Clim Change 4, 811–816 (2014).

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