Human land uses reduce climate connectivity across North America

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Climate connectivity, the ability of a landscape to promote or hinder the movement of organisms in response to a changing climate, is contingent on multiple factors including the distance organisms need to move to track suitable climate over time (i.e. climate velocity) and the resistance they experience along such routes. An additional consideration which has received less attention is that human land uses increase resistance to movement or alter movement routes and thus influence climate connectivity. Here we evaluate the influence of human land uses on climate connectivity across North America by comparing two climate connectivity scenarios, one considering climate change in isolation and the other considering climate change and human land uses. In doing so, we introduce a novel metric of climate connectivity, ‘human exposure’, that quantifies the cumulative exposure to human activities that organisms may encounter as they shift their ranges in response to climate change. We also delineate potential movement routes and evaluate whether the protected area network supports movement corridors better than non-protected lands. We found that when incorporating human land uses, climate connectivity decreased; climate velocity increased on average by 0.3 km/year and cumulative climatic resistance increased for ~83% of the continent. Moreover, ~96% of movement routes in North America must contend with human land uses to some degree. In the scenario that evaluated climate change in isolation, we found that protected areas do not support climate corridors at a higher rate than non-protected lands across North America. However, variability is evident, as many ecoregions contain protected areas that exhibit both more and less representation of climate corridors compared to non-protected lands. Overall, our study indicates that previous evaluations of climate connectivity underestimate climate change exposure because they do not account for human impacts.

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