Agency plans are inadequate to conserve US endangered species under climate change

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Despite widespread evidence of climate change as a threat to biodiversity, it is unclear whether government policies and agencies are adequately addressing this threat to species. Here we evaluate species sensitivity, a component of climate change vulnerability, and whether climate change is discussed as a threat in planning for climate-related management action in official documents from 1973 to 2018 for all 459 US animals listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. We find that 99.8% of species are sensitive to one or more of eight sensitivity factors, but agencies consider climate change as a threat to only 64% of species and plan management actions for only 18% of species. Agencies are more likely to plan actions for species sensitive to more factors, but such planning has declined since 2016. Results highlight the gap between climate change sensitivity and the attention from agencies charged with conserving endangered species.

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Fig. 1: Sensitivity to climate factors, threat assessment and planned management action.
Fig. 2: Taxonomic differences in sensitivity to climate factors.
Fig. 3: Taxonomic differences occur in whether and how climate change is discussed in official management documents for endangered animals.
Fig. 4: Discussion of climate change as a threat and planning of management action in official documents over time.

Data availability

Data are archived on Open Science Framework and available at A free, interactive web application containing data and results from this study is available at


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We thank N. Dubois and N. Matson for valuable input and B. Dreher, M. Evans, M. Evansen, M. Lacey, S. Pastel and S. Steingard for feedback on the manuscript. Financial support for data collection was provided by University of Maryland and the Stanback Internship Program of Duke University.

Author information

A.D. and A.C. designed the study. A.D., A.C., K.M.E., R.K., S.M., K.A.T. and L.J.V. collected data. A.D. and J.R.B.M. analysed data and wrote the manuscript. A.D., J.W.M., M.N.S. and J.R.B.M. interpreted results and J.W.M. built the web app. All authors provided critical feedback on the manuscript.

Correspondence to Aimee Delach.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Nathalie Butt, Mark Schwartz and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary results, Figs. 1 and 2, and Tables 1 and 2.

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Delach, A., Caldas, A., Edson, K.M. et al. Agency plans are inadequate to conserve US endangered species under climate change. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 999–1004 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0620-8

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