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Vertebrate Population Responses to Climate Change – Parameter-Setting and First Applications of Predictive Models Based on Demographic Processes

Ever since the Rio Convention, the study of the impact of global climate change on biological diversity has been recognised as an international priority. The major challenge which ecologists face today is to develop models capable of predicting changes in distribution area and extinction risk of animal and plant species under various climate change scenarios. The first attempts at designing such projection models were based primarily on the study of statistical association patterns between the presence of species and changes in the climate. In our project, we propose to develop models that explicitly integrate demographic processes reliant on the climate’s dynamic with the populations. Such models have extremely high potential as tools for choosing the best strategies to prevent an increase in the greenhouse effect on natural systems. They can be used to predict demographic performance of target species in a future climate context, to assess the potential effectiveness of different conservation measures likely to counteract the effects of climate change and, lastly, to identify the evolutionary paths that would make it possible for individuals from target populations and species to adapt to new climate conditions.

The project coordinators propose, within the Clim-Pop Network, to draw upon shared databases of long-term vertebrate population monitoring and on the progress achieved, from both the biological and methodological standpoints, during the first stage of funding for the Clim-Pop Network by the GICC-IFB, to build demographic process models for a set of vertebrate species displaying highly-varied biodemographic strategies and living environments. The models designed through this process will be used to predict the demographic performance of the vertebrate populations followed by members of the Clim-Pop network in future climate contexts. Two climate change scenarios will be considered : a moderate change scenario and a major change scenario. In addition, they will use these models to go further in their fundamental understanding of the processes that connect the climate dynamic with that of vertebrate populations. Considering that climate models predict, for the near future, an increase in frequency, duration and intensity of climate anomalies, they will attempt to understand the impact of significant variations in climate factors on vertebrate populations by analysing the properties of the demographic process models designed.

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