The sensitivity and vulnerability of terrestrial habitats and species in Britain and Ireland to climate change
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AbstractClimate change is having an increasing impact on the distribution and functioning of species and habitats. This has important implications for conservation practice and policy. The aim of this study was to model the direct impacts of climate change on terrestrial environments in Britain and Ireland in order to understand the possible changes in the distribution of species and the composition of habitats. A model, based on an artificial neural network, was used to predict changes in the bioclimate envelope of species, under the UKCIP98 climate change scenarios. A total of 50 species, representing several taxa, were modelled. Many species demonstrated a consistent response to climate change, either increasing or losing suitable climate space, although some had a variable response with losses starting to occur under the high scenarios. The percentage change in the bioclimate envelope of the species was calculated. This showed that montane species and habitats were the most sensitive to climate change. Other habitats from upland areas or species with northern distributions were also sensitive to losses, while species gaining suitable climate space represented a variety of habitats. Sensitivity needs to be viewed alongside vulnerability, the ability of the species or habitat to adapt to climate change. Montane species and habitats were the most vulnerable, with limited adaptation possibilities. Other vulnerable habitats, for which species modelling was carried out, include lowland raised bog, lowland calcareous grassland and native pine woodland. The potential impacts of climate change should be taken into account when planning conservation measures for these sensitive and vulnerable species and habitats.